In ancient Sparta, being born did not necessarily mean that a child would be cherished. The Spartan elders could decide, if they thought the child was weak or deformed in any way, to have the child exposed to the elements, cut off from the support of the community and left to die.
This practice of ‘exposure’ seems to have been relatively common in some parts of the ancient world. Christianity, with its emphasis on the equality of all before God, and Jesus’ own example of love for children, was revolutionary in this context. While it goes without saying that not all Christian communities have lived to the full this ideal of care for the vulnerable, it is important to recognise how radical this aspect of Christianity was.
Was, and is again. With the aid of pre-birth diagnosis, doctors can now inform parents that their child has a disability. On its own, this is not a bad thing – it can help parents prepare for a more difficult situation. But wherever abortion is available on demand (as in Britain, for example), such information is commonly paired with advice to end the life of the disabled child. In such regimes, up to 90% of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are ‘exposed’ in this way.
Christianity’s message of care for everyone, respect for the dignity of everyone, is once again a radical teaching, and it is rejected, consciously or unconsciously, by many of our peers. This video, then, produced last week for World Down Syndrome Day, is a powerful illustration of the beautiful results of following this teaching with love and perseverance: it shows sensitive and ambitious young people and proud mothers. Above all, it shows smiles. These smiling faces, born of relationships rooted in love and respect, are the true face of the Culture of Life. Let us salute our brothers and sisters with Down Syndrome, and let us salute their families.