By Renate Lindeman, the spokesperson for Dutch parent group Downpride’
Yesterday, the picture of a young boy with Down syndrome, tethered to his bed, went viral on the internet. The picture above was taken in 2006 during MDRI’s investigation of Serbian institutions. In 2007 when the investigation was made public he was moved to a Serbian foster home.
When this picture first emerged on the internet in February 2015 the following comment was made: “Although the picture above is haunting, please know the child is living with and well loved by a family in the US. He also has continued contact with his birth family. Reece’s Rainbow*) was involved in the adoption.”
Besides the much read and liked comments like ‘sad’ and ‘heartbreaking’, that were left yesterday someone questioned: ‘how could parents do this to their own flesh and blood’?
In Eastern Europe – and many other places in the world – parents do this ‘to their own flesh and blood’ because the birth of a child with a disability is cause for disappointment. When their child is born there are no congratulations and the doctor and nurses will tell parents that their child will never achieve anything meaningful. That their child will drag them down financially. That this child will ruin their and their families lives. That they will never be able to give their child the proper care so they better hand it over to authorities, who know what is best for all involved. Parents, trusting the experts, who often deal with similar situations, hand over their newborns to the States’ care. The child often ends up abandoned in some (mental) institution thousands of miles away from the home of his birth parents.
In Western society we are much more civilized and screening programs are offered to ‘detect anomalies’ as routine part of prenatal healthcare. If a child is diagnosed with a disability such as Down syndrome, there are no congratulations and the doctor and nurses will tell the parents that their child will probably never achieve anything meaningful. That their child will drag them down financially. That this child may ruin their and their families lives. That they may never be able to give their child the proper care so they better consider……………the option to terminate pregnancy.
Many parents, trusting the experts, who often deal with similar situations, decide over the future of their unborn child and abort. Termination rates after Down syndrome is diagnosed vary from 67% in the US to 92% in Europe.
And just because we do not have pictures like the one shown above, doesn’t make it a lesser injustice. Eliminating people with disabilities from our lives, either before or after birth, stems from the inability to view disabled children as equally human. The effect on society remains the same.
Children should not be placed in institutions because they have a disability. Unborn children should not be exterminated because they have a disability. That doesn’t say anything about the inherent worth of these children. It says everything about the society we live in.
Children with disabilities are just like – well – children: they need love, a home, school, inclusion, friends, apple-pie. And if they are given that, these children with disabilities will thrive just like –well- children. They will achieve something meaningful and they will enrich your life and that of your family. They will be loved and they will love you. Don’t just take my word for it. Take the words of millions of parents of children with disabilities around the world.
I hope that this little boys’ picture will aide in achieving awareness that children with disabilities belong in society, as well as question authorities’ ability to know what’s best for families.
*) Reece’s Rainbow has helped numerous institutionalized children find their ‘forever’ family. Many of their stories start like the one of the little boy shown in the picture and continue as children living happy, healthy and full lives with their adoption family.