Words cannot express the blessing that my brother Gabriel is to his parents, six siblings, and his many other family members and friends. He makes life fuller and richer in every way. But many people today don’t understand the extraordinary blessing of my brother’s life.
Gabriel is the most loving and self-giving person I know. I believe he has his finger on the pulse of what life is truly about. There is not a thing about him I would change, and that’s why I want to bring awareness to the beauty of the lives of those with special needs, particularly those who are especially at risk and unappreciated.
World Down Syndrome Day
March 21 marks World Down Syndrome Day. It’s a day to celebrate the countless individuals that bless our world who have an extra copy of chromosome 21.
However, the fight to recognize the value of all life continues, and the statistics are staggering. Ninety-five percent of babies with Down syndrome in Ireland are reportedly aborted. Iceland claims to have “eliminated” Down syndrome by killing 100% of babies with Down syndrome through abortion. In Denmark, which introduced universal prenatal testing for Down syndrome in 2004, nearly 95% of mothers opt for abortion after receiving a Down syndrome diagnosis. Scientific studies in the U.S. have revealed that approximately 80-90% of expectant parents abort a child with Down syndrome.
This brutal landscape starkly contrasts with the beautiful experiences of families who choose to give life to babies with Down syndrome. The reality is that Trisomy 21 is not a death sentence; it’s a blessing. I believe that we are at a moment of grace in this country where we can call deeper and more profound attention to human life with special needs.
It’s not a race
Just before we entered the hospital room, my dad told my siblings and I that there was something extra special about our new brother, Gabriel. In his words, we had a beautiful and healthy baby brother who was truly a blessing to our family. Dad told us that Gabriel had what is called Down syndrome, and that while Gabriel was perfect and simply needed lots of our love, it may take him longer to learn how to do certain things.
Dad said it was not really a big deal because we were all going to help Gabriel. I distinctly recall telling him in a matter-of-fact way: “Well, it’s not a race, Dad!” Where that came from, I cannot tell you. But I do know that this mantra that life, learning and achievement are not diminished by a “disability” still holds true today.
Without being able to express it at the time, I somehow knew Gabriel’s Down syndrome was only a small part of him, it was not his identity.
“I just felt blessed,” was my mom’s response to what she felt when she learned of Gabriel’s diagnosis at birth. This was a grace. I do not mean to suggest that other responses are not genuine or appropriate. However, my mom’s response shows that a special needs diagnosis does not need to be a moment of grief, but rather a celebration of life. My own experiences tell me that yes, a child with special needs will affect your family life, but in the best possible way.
Even though Gabriel may not conform to the “ideals of society,” he clearly teaches me that life, learning, and achievement are not a race, and this has permeated all aspects of my life.
The value of a human life
For too long, persons with special needs have been targeted as not worthy of life. We were endowed by the Creator to reverence all human life. Seeing through a lens that celebrates the dignity, self-worth, intrinsic value and the immortal soul of each person will enable us to strongly defend all human life from conception until natural death.
Pope St. John Paul II said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” We ought to exercise our freedom in defense of the most vulnerable, standing up for the inalienable right to life.
My hope is that Gabriel’s story will inspire others to see the infinite value of individuals with special needs in their own lives.
Jacinta Hamilton is a senior at the University of Iowa where she is majoring in Elementary Education. She is the oldest of her 7 siblings, including her brother Gabriel.