Ruth, Meet Gracie

My latest in the Weekly Standard:

I wish Ruth Marcus had come to the birthday party Wednesday night.

Not that I know her that well, but I’ve always found her pleasant, decent, and smart. We’ve exchanged green room pleasantries and apparently last week during a joint appearance, I introduced her to the term “pornstache” (in a discussion of John Bolton’s facial hair).

A few weeks ago, Marcus created a stir with her column headlined: “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” A mother of two, Marcus wrote that she was old enough to be tested for Down syndrome after the 15thweek of her pregnancy. “I can say without hesitation,” she wrote, “that, tragic as I would have felt, and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.”

I would have liked to have taken Ms. Marcus to Gracie Jagler’s 21st birthday party.

Gracie had her hair done for the event and a limousine brought her to the local Elks Club lodge for the gathering of families and friends. Coincidentally, her birthday fell on World Down Syndrome Day, which was appropriate since Gracie was born with an extra chromosome.

I wish I could have introduced Marcus to this lovely young woman and told her Gracie’s story. Last year, Gracie was awarded the first-ever Blake Pyron Entrepreneurship Scholarship. The award, given by the National Down Syndrome Society, recognized Gracie’s success in creating her own company—a natural dog treat business based out of her home in Watertown, Wisconsin, called Gracie’s Doggie Delights.

I should acknowledge here that I have known her parents for years, having worked with her father, John, at my old radio station. But my more direct connection these days is through our three dogs, Moses, Auggie, and Pete, who regard Gracie’s treats as canine crack.

They are not alone, as Gracie and her family have built the business on the growing number of customers she calls “G-Dogs,” whose lives revolve around scheming for her frozen chicken, lamb, and turkey hearts or beef liver treats. (Available for order online here)

“The money part, she doesn’t quite realize, but she does know she’s helping dogs,” her father, John told a Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper. “So, every night before she goes to bed, we look at her photos on (the business’) Facebook (page) of all the dogs that have been mailed (treats).”

At her 21st birthday party, Gracie blew out the candles on her cake and posed for pictures with two of her dog customers. She is a young woman with a purpose and the confidence of knowing that she can do this.

“Grace is a blessing,” her father, now a Republican member of the Wisconsin legislature, says. “She is a true gift. She makes me a better person every day. Seeing her thrive while operating her own business has been like watching a miracle play out before you. She’s confident. She’s happy. The world needs more people like her, not less.”

We talked about the Marcus column.

“My initial reaction was sadness,” he says, “but it grew to anger as people started complimenting her and describing the article as ‘courageous.’ Her saying ‘this was not the child I wanted’ is the most astoundingly selfish thing I have ever read.”

“She’s not picking out a snack at a vending machine in the Post’s cafeteria. We are talking about a human life—one that didn’t ask to be brought into this world.”

In her column, Marcus made it clear that she respected and admired parents like the Jaglers who “knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives.” She insisted, however, that aborting babies with Down syndrome should remain an individual choice.

But ideas and social attitudes have consequences; and regarding certain types of children as inconvenient burdens can morph into dehumanization. As George Will (who has a son with Down syndrome) wrote afterward, it can ultimately lead to the virtual extermination of a whole class of babies.

In Iceland, he noted, they have “basically eradicated” Down Syndrome people through aggressive prenatal testing and social pressures to abort children like Gracie. Iceland is further along than other Western countries, but is not an outlier.

About 750 British Down syndrome babies are born each year, but 90 percent of women who learn that their child will have — actually, that their child does have — Down syndrome have an abortion. In Denmark the elimination rate is 98 percent.

America, where 19 percent of all pregnancies are aborted, is playing catch-up in the Down syndrome elimination sweepstakes (elimination rate of 67 percent, 1995-2011).

There is a striking irony here. Even as the progressive West expands its circle of tolerance for “others” who had once been denied their full humanity, this is happening. And it is happening at a time when more people with Down syndrome are making productive and meaningful lives for themselves.

“People with Down syndrome are thriving,” says John Jagler. “The early medical interventions have improved quality of life and increased life expectancy. Their access to education is greater than ever before. Their opportunities to work are growing every day as companies realize the benefits of hiring people with developmental disabilities.

“The truth is, there has never been a better time for a person with Down syndrome to be alive. That is, if they’re allowed to live in the first place.”

So what would he tell a family facing a Down syndrome diagnosis?

“I would tell them what a very young resident doctor told me when Grace was born. I expressed to him my fears: What will her health be? What will she be able to do in her life? Will I be able to handle it?

“The young doctor looked at me and asked if Grace had any siblings. Her older sister Sarah was 2. He turned it around. ‘What will Sarah’s health be? Will she have any health issues in the future? What will Sarah accomplish in her life? Does her lack of a third 21st chromosome guarantee her happiness, wealth, a life lived with a strong moral compass?’

“He then asked why would I try to project my fears and anxieties on Grace when I didn’t project them on Sarah.”

What did he think about Ruth Marcus’s “respect and admiration” for parents like John and Heidi Jagler?

He thinks for a moment.

“I don’t want it,” he says. “If she wants to admire someone, let her meet Grace.”



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