The dignity of people with special needs

A recent spate of news articles has appeared arguing children with special needs should never have been born. Mothers are suing hospitals, saying had they known their children would be diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, or autism and hemophilia, they would have had an abortion. And this summer, CBS reported Iceland had fully eliminated Down syndrome through abortion. We were proud to see our own Patricia Heaton bravely respond with the hard truth, “Iceland isn’t actually eliminating Down Syndrome. They’re just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.” Scores of tweets followed from proud parents sharing photos of their beautiful children with Down syndrome. None of these kids was “wrongfully born.” Children with special needs possess the same value in their one life as anyone else. Our challenges and life paths may be different, but our common humanity is what matters.

As Archbishop Gomez said at OneLife LA 2016, “No one should go unnoticed or unloved in our society! No one should feel excluded or like they are a burden or an inconvenience. Wherever dignity is denied, wherever people are in slavery — that’s where we need to be.”

At OneLife LA, we want to show the unique beauty and significance of each person’s life, and the truth that one life can make a difference. We are inspired by stories of people who surmount adversity with courage. Our keynote speaker this year, Karen Gaffney, relayed across the English Channel, swam Lake Tahoe and numerous other open water swims, and became the first living person with Down syndrome to receive an honorary doctorate.

When a family learns their unborn child will have a different life than they planned, they may be afraid. Our hearts break when we hear someone we love will suffer. But in that heartbreak, we learn to sacrifice, to love, and to truly become the people we were meant to be. Our lives don’t end when we suffer. Rather, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Our speakers who share the OneLife stage have overcome targeting for abortion as well as gang violence, human trafficking, and disabilities, and now share the beauty of their hope and joy with us. They know that one person’s life can make a difference.

I think of Little Noah Smith who has Down syndrome and went on stage with his dad and family at the first OneLife LA. He is just starting school, still growing up. His dad Rick and their family fight every day to give their son the greatest opportunities possible. We are better off for having his life in this world.

Abortion does not respond to the needs of people with disabilities. Our love does. When we love moms through a difficult pregnancy, love homeless families off the streets and into permanent housing, love kids with special needs and give them amazing life experiences, we change the world. Whatever challenges we face, whether a disability or anything else, we know each of us is made for greater courage and hope. And by our service, we can show the world that we were #MadeForGreater.

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