Culture Friday: World Down Syndrome Day

MARY REICHARD, HOST: First up on The World and Everything in It: Culture Friday.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Yes and it’s time to welcome John Stonestreet now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning.


EICHER: Let’s begin with the story that started to break right after we talked last week, John, the mass shooting in New Zealand, that white-supremacist attack on Muslims in prayer.

For Christians, we simply mourn with those who mourn. Clearly, this is a terrorist attack.

And maybe one way to think about it, proportionally, is to consider it much as we consider the 9/11 terror attacks. The death toll as a fraction of the overall population is roughly the same. New Zealand is that small.

But the cultural question, John, as you consider the media coverage and the commentary, I really have to wonder whether outrageous attacks like these, that leave behind heartbreak and trauma, whether these kinds of things today lack the power to bring us together anymore.

They just seem if anything to drive us apart.

Our first instinct seems to be to look for evidence to confirm our preferred narrative.

What do you think about this?

STONESTREET: That’s a good question. I mean, I think it changes whether you’re talking about “us” as Americans. I mean, there’s hardly anything — even our own tragedies — that bring us together anymore. In fact, most of the time what we find in the wake of an attack, a tragedy, an evil that happens here is that we immediately jump to a political divide.

I think that’s probably a different question than if the “us” you’re talking about New Zealand, where it actually happened. I mean, I think there this is a 9/11 sort of event for that nation. It’s a nation I’ve been to a lot, actually. Over the last 20 years I probably visited 8 or 10 times. It’s a peaceful, laid-back place. It’s a place where you work hard and then you play hard and it’s a place where there certainly are disagreements on the political spectrum, but there’s not that long history. This is the first real tragedy they’ve had there in a really, really, really long time. I think there was a boat that was blown up in a harbor 25 years ago or 30 years ago, but this is shocking for them. And I think that that’s one of the uniquenesses of this event.

When the political state of that nation, the cultural sort of place that it is, the geographical isolation of New Zealand is a big impact on its culture. It’s just a different sort of place.

And so it’s just really a tragic thing that when you see an event down there, where we should be in solidarity with our Kiwi friends and I have many of them, that we’re using it as a wedge to further kind of have a political conversation here. And the media was guilty of that here. I mean, it was within moments that American media was blaming it on President Trump. I mean, that’s really kind of crazy. And, yet, at the same time, the shooter got a lot of his ideas from American white supremacists. So there’s just a global nature to this. This is a new kind of event and it’s crossed some new lines, I think, in terms of kind of the social media realities of it.

EICHER: Well, John, yesterday was World Down Syndrome Day. Maybe you wonder why March 21st is the day for World Down Syndrome Day, but think about this: Down Syndrome is technically known as Trisomy 21, a tripling of the 21st chromosome pair. So 3/21. March 21st.

So in honor of that special day, I want to play a short audio clip of a courageous activist. He testified to Congress in favor of research funds related to Down Syndrome, for genetic research. Here’s Frank Stephens, a man with Down Syndrome, challenging members of Congress to understand the value of people like him.

STEPHENS: We are the canary in the eugenics coal mine. We are giving the world a chance to think about the ethics of choosing which humans get a chance at life. Is there really no place for us in the world?

You can find quite a few videos of Frank Stephens speaking. He’s really quite inspiring to listen to. He always speaks up for the inherent dignity of men and women with Down Syndrome. And I really like the imagery he uses here: how we think about people like him really reveals how we just think about people generally.

STONESTREET: Yeah, and he’s exactly right about it. It’s an amazing speech, the one he gave in front of Congress and it’s worth everyone watching and sharing over and over and over again and in honor of World Down Syndrome Day, what a great day to do it.

You know, look, when Iceland announced last year that it had eradicated Down Syndrome, not because it had found a cure but because it had found, basically, a systemic way to eliminate anyone with Down Syndrome, basically they were reporting on eugenics success.

So that eugenics impulse hasn’t gone away and that’s exactly what Frank Stephens talks about at that speech the tendency to want to eliminate those who we consider to be lesser-than because we’ve lost any sort of cultural consensus on human value and human dignity, means that people lose their lives. And that’s an impulse that’s been with the human race since the garden and it certainly is in full-effect right now.

This is powerful. And, honestly, I think now especially that we’ve got every Democratic candidate in the field for president, every single one that has endorsed basically no restrictions on abortion whatsoever. They need to be challenged specifically on this issue. Where do they stand on selective abortion? Gender-selective abortion? And this sort of eugenics having to do with disability — whether it’s Down Syndrome or whatever else. They need to be asked. They need to be asked in public. They need to be forced to go on record because that’s what Frank Stephens and many people who make this same case are arguing is that this commitment to abortion for any reason basically trivializes some lives on the basis that they’re disabled. And it’s a tragic situation but a great way to celebrate it is to watch this speech. It’s fantastic and needs to be shared widely.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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