Paralyzing diagnosis, amazing child

Fr. Pat Angelucci was director of Salesian High School in New Rochelle, but he’d cross the border to celebrate a mass or two on Sundays at St. Michael’s in Greenwich. Dan and Susan Schuller always made it a point to say hello. They loved his homilies.

One Sunday, Fr. Pat read Claudia Minden Welsz’s poem, “And God Said ‘No’”:  [Read more…]


Gov. O’Malley’s Dereliction of Duty

Maryland governor Martin O’Malley is supposed to be a good Catholic boy. The 50 year-old Democrat and former Baltimore mayor was educated in Catholic schools and got his bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University of America. He appears on national political programs and states, “I’m a Catholic.” His official biography notes the name of his family’s parish and trumpets his belief “that Marylanders are bound together by ‘the common thread of human dignity.’” In his campaign materials, O’Malley is fond of emphasizing his concern for Maryland’s “most vulnerable citizens.”

When O’Malley announces the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, as he surely will sometime in the next 18 months, expect the media to draw a straight line between his unbreakable commitment to social justice and his Irish Catholic upbringing. Expect O’Malley’s stances on abortion, the HHS mandate, and same-sex marriage—so out of step with true Catholic teaching—to be presented as evidence of his Christ-like concern for the poor, the marginalized, and the defenseless.

Expect no one to mention the name Robert Ethan Saylor.

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People-First Language

There is a movement gaining steam among advocates for the disabled to spread awareness of so-called “people-first language,” that is, usage that puts a little distance between an individual and his or her physical or intellectual challenges.

The goal is to train the government, the media, and the medical professions to learn to talk about “kids with cerebral palsy” or “people with autism” rather than “cerebral palsy kids” or “autistic people.” Doctors have been quick to pick up on this; the media less so. And the vast majority of states have adopted people-first language in their statutes and official communications.

At first glance, it might seem like a little thing—just one more politically-correct adjustment to the way we talk, brought to you by the chronically aggrieved, never-satisfied word police.

But to those who love someone with a developmental or physical disability it really is a question of what comes first, the person or the disability. Our mental, physical, and emotional challenges aside, we are all unique individuals, and those raising awareness about people-first language are motivated by a genuine desire to emphasize our common humanity.

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Praying for Patience

We went up to New Haven last month so Magdalena could have her tonsils out. The operation was a success; the aftermath was a nightmare.

The patient was in high spirits when we arrived at the hospital, entertaining the staff with her trademark blend of impulsive hijinks and absurd non-sequiturs. Magdalena can be a handful, but it is often a charming handful. If I was a doctor or a nurse, I’d mark the “OUT OF THE ORDINARY” box on her medical chart.

Of course, they did mark that box, because there are all sorts of scary-sounding things that can go wrong when someone with Down syndrome goes under the knife. My wife and I tried to put those things out of our minds as we waited in the small room with the big stack of magazines. Some quiet prayers were said.

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Killed by the Law and No One Protests

Early this year, a schizophrenic, transgender, African-American woman named Kayla Moore died under mysterious circumstances after cops responded to a disturbance at her Berkeley, Calif., home. Soon afterward, an angry mob of 70 protesters took to the streets calling for “Vengeance for Kayla.”

In March, Kimani Gray of East Flatbush was shot to death by plainclothes NYPD officers after cops claimed the 16-year-old pulled a revolver from the waistband of his pants. The incident touched off several days of protests, culminating in a 200-strong march on the 67th Precinct.

Anytime a member of a minority group dies in police custody, calls for an investigation usually aren’t far behind. Usually, but not always. [Read more…]

Guns, Glee, and Down Syndrome

Recently, Glee aired a “ripped from the headlines” episode meant to capitalize on the debate over gun control. According to the Washington Post, the program featured “long, unsettling stretches of students sitting in the darkness, hiding under tables and desks and sobbing, while leaving devastating video messages for their loved ones, as they waited to see what was going to happen.” Dramatic stuff, and not without controversy; the Newtown Action Alliance, a gun-control advocacy group, urged supporters not to watch.

The gunplay which prompted the dramatics turned out not to be part of a Sandy Hook–style attack on Glee’s fictional McKinley High. Rather, Becky—the character with Down syndrome—brought her father’s gun to school and fired it by accident.

The National Down Syndrome Society was quick to call the decision to make Becky the shooter a “poor choice.” Much of the online reaction from friends and families of people living with Down syndrome was also critical. A blogger asked, “Was the Glee school shooting episode offensive to people with Down syndrome?” Many feared that an equivalency was being drawn between developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and the violent mental illness that appears to have been responsible for the violence in Newtown.

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Welcome to Sparta

From the Winter 2013 issue of the Human Life Review.

I used to teach fourth grade at a school for boys. One of my favorite lessons was about ancient Sparta.

The boys loved it, too. Spartans were soldiers. They prized strength. They celebrated those who could withstand great pain and survive harsh conditions. Spartan boys began training for war at age 7, but the process of weeding out weaklings began at birth.

The Spartans would put the puniest babies on the mountainside to die. They didn’t want weak men, so weak babies were exterminated.

My students would initially decide that the idea made sense. Eventually, however, they’d notice a problem.

“The biggest and the strongest don’t always have the best ideas,” one would point out. “You’d also want smart people to help make battle plans.”

The Spartans sacrificed their unwanted children because they thought it would make them stronger. Even fourth graders could see the mistake. [Read more…]

Testing Down Syndrome to Death

From the Winter 2013 issue of the Human Life Review.

At one time or another, all of us have fallen for a lie that we wanted to believe. Have you heard that nine out of ten babies with Down syndrome are aborted?

I first came across this shocking statistic in a New York Times article published in May 2007, just two months after my daughter Magdalena, who has Down syndrome, celebrated her first birthday.

In the years since, I have seen it repeated in countless articles in respected publications, in blog posts and in interviews, in every corner of the ever-expanding media universe. The influential conservative writer George Will referenced the claim last year in a lovely piece about his son John’s 40th birthday. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat also used it last year in an article about eugenics. The claim shows up all the time in social media. I have used it myself.

But is it true? Winston Churchill said that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on, and this 90 percent claim has certainly done some impressive travelling.

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Russia’s Cruel Adoption Ban

You may have read that Russian president Vladimir Putin recently signed a new law banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans. Andrea Roberts read the news with “disbelief” and was sure this meant certain death for the dozens of Russian orphans with special needs for whom she helps to find American homes each year. Reece’s Rainbow, the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based organization that Roberts founded and directs, has in the last four years aided in the adoption of over two hundred Russian children with Down syndrome and other special needs.

While the new law presents a grim scenario for Reece’s Rainbow, a little-noticed development seems set to become a huge New Year’s gift for Roberts and the families she works with. Robert Shlegel, a member of Putin’s United Russia party and a deputy in the lower house of the Russian Parliament, has proposed an amendment to the law that will allow an exception for Russian orphans with special needs.

“The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for us,” says Roberts. “The law that Putin signed would literally be a death sentence for hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian orphans with special needs. This amendment has restored my faith that the Russians believe that every person deserves a family.”

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The Down syndrome community’s abortion rift

It all comes down to abortion. That’s what my late father-in-law always said. No philosophical disagreement, no policy debate, no theological quibble rivals our fundamental and unbridgeable divide on the question of abortion. No other issue carries half as much baggage in the public mind. Not taxes, not health care, not immigration, not war, not peace. In the final tally, it all comes down to abortion.

This disease has so infected the body politic that it has begun to make bitter enemies even out of those with seemingly aligned interests. Don’t believe me? Consider the strange case of the competing Down syndrome booklets.

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