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Opinion: How our Maggie transforms our lives

Silhouettes of parents with their children.

Silhouettes of parents with their children. Photo Credit: iStock

Richard Dawkins, renowned atheist and author, recently asserted that is was immoral to bring a baby with Down syndrome into the world and through Twitter told a woman carrying such a baby to "abort it and try again."

In the face of blistering criticism, Dawkins apologized, blaming the Twitter 140-character limit for the furor his remarks caused. He then defended his position on his website, explaining that his "morality" was based on a desire to increase happiness and reduce suffering. Digging himself an even bigger hole, he asserted that it may be wrong, from the child's perspective, not to abort.

Dawkins, who is a biologist and geneticist, wondered far from his fields of expertise to make remarks that are fundamentally flawed and shockingly offensive to every parent of a child with Down syndrome.

His error is not one of philosophy, religion or morality. He is wrong because his basic premise, that people with Down syndrome somehow decrease happiness and increase suffering, is wrong.

On an empirical level, the American Journal of Medical Genetics published a research paper revealing that 88 percent of siblings of children with Down syndrome thought they were better people for having a sibling with Down syndrome. Another survey by the same group revealed that 99 percent of those over age 12 with Down syndrome, are personally happy. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that so many families with children who have Down syndrome were stunned and hurt by Dawkins' statements.

Margaret Rose, the youngest of our four children, has Down syndrome. We love her beyond description and feel blessed to have her in our lives. Her two sisters and brother argue over who gets to hug her first, hold her the longest and play with her the most. We can't imagine our lives without Maggie. When we were talking about writing this opinion piece, our oldest, 8-year-old Katie, asked whether we were writing about Maggie "because she is the cutest baby on the planet." We don't need a study or a survey to tell us that she is happy and makes us happy. We get to experience her every day.

Maggie, who will be 2 next month, is sweet, playful and affectionate. She possesses a strong, almost stubborn will and has an abundance of energy. Her smile will make your heart melt and her hearty laugh can bring a tear to your eye. If one of us has a rough day, spending a few minutes with Maggie transforms our mood. Her happiness is downright contagious.

The disgraceful suggestion that women should abort other babies because they are like Maggie is a hideous idea laced with malice and born of willful ignorance. Dawkins fueled bigoted fears about people with intellectual disabilities and his words are reminiscent of repugnant philosophies that suggest we can breed a society of perfect people.

True happiness and joy are not found where Dawkins would have you look. They are discovered when people of any intellectual ability lovingly and selflessly interact. With love, life's problems don't detract from happiness; they become an avenue through which love finds expression and it is in the act of love that Maggie, like all of us, proves her worth.

We are not blind to the challenges Maggie will face. Indeed, our eyes are open to the challenges all of our children have before them. Maggie has Down syndrome but that is not the sum of her. By focusing on just that, Dawkins misses her beauty and goodness and thus cruelly suggests that she should not have been born.

We did not act immorally by not aborting Maggie because she has Down syndrome. Rather, with God's grace, we brought another person into the world who will add to happiness and joy by being loved and by loving others.

Bruce and Mary Kay Barket live in Manhasset. Bruce is an attorney and Mary Kay is an actuary who is at home raising their four children.

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