NY Times picks up our Down syndrome thread

Motherlode, a New York Times blog on parenting, has picked up on Contrarian’s discussion about potential treatments for the intellectual impairment associated with Down syndrome — and touched off quite a debate of it its own.

Our own discussion began with L’Arche Cape Breton Community Leader Jenn Power’s disquiet at the assumption that Down syndrome constitutes a disease in need of curing. Jenn, who is both the adopted mother of identical twins with Down Syndrome and — disclosure — my daughter-in-law, spoke eloquently of Down traits that don’t need fixing:

[I]ncredible smiles, overflowing affection, stubbornness, great sense of humour, cute toes, love for orange pop and Rita MacNeil, endless capacity to forgive… the list goes on and on.  I am not sure I can articulate why, but I find this article both upsetting (lump in my throat and eyes welled with tears right now) and disturbing.  Why does everything need a “cure?”

david-sThe Times quoted at length from Jenn’s subsequent, more detailed Contrarian post, and from Stanford University researcher Dr. Ahmad Salehi’s thoughtful response here as well. Motherlode’s thread on the subject has now attracted more than 100 comments. Several are thoughtful and constructive, but a shocking number come from people quick to condemn Jenn as “selfish” or “patronizing” for not jumping at the chance to chemically enhance her sons’ cognitive skills.

Many Contrarian readers are familiar enough with Jenn to know her life is the antithesis of selfishness. As I wrote in my own comment on Motherlode:

As the leader of this extraordinary [L'Arche] community, Jenn manages an incredible range of human emotions, trials, joys, and tribulations, along with the myriad practical details required to manage any large group of diverse people. She does this with enormous tact, kindness, generosity, wisdom, humor, firmness, practicality, and love. And immense hard work.

From this I conclude that, despite decades of progress integrating developmentally challenged citizens into society, we have a long way to go in overcoming the kneejerk tendency to view people like my grandsons as less good and less valuable than the rest of us. That’s our loss as much as it is theirs.

In a separate post aimed at New York Times readers, I will include links to all our Down syndrome posts, and to several short videos featuring the extraordinary folks at L’Arche Cape Breton, including my esteemed two grandsons, Josh and Jacob.


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