On August 4th, about 80 people attended the seminar hosted by Family Life International in conjunction with Saving Downs “Loving Every Child: Defying Eugenics”. This seminar was hot on the heels of the announcement that the International Criminal Court will hold a preliminary enquiry into New Zealand’s antenatal screening programme for Down syndrome and other conditions.
The seminar featured guest speakers from Australia and New Zealand. Monsignor Bernard Keily, St Patrick Catheral’s Administrator, opened the seminar by reading Psalm 139. He shared about how his younger brother, Gerard touched the lives of rough strangers by just loving them.
Alex Snedden, a 24 year old man who has Down syndrome, shared about his love of life, including a key highlight of attending the World Youth Day in Spain and meeting Pope Benedict XVI. He also talked about living with flatmates he found on TradeMe, and his love of working for various people, including his Dad, Bishop Pat Dunn and the food bank.
Mrs Rita Joseph spoke on the topic: “By What Right are we Human Beings?” Her talk highlighted the uniqueness of each human being and their inherent dignity. Rita passionately articulated the evil of eugenics and the killing of the unborn child in the womb through abortion, conveying the role of governments and groups who seek to make it a duty to abort children with any defects. Rita also spoke on the history of eugenics and how people with Down syndrome and Spina Bifida were selected for euthanasia by the Nazis. History is repeating itself as up to 9 out of 10 children identified as having these conditions are killed. Mrs Joseph called this a crime against humanity. The holocaust began with a small modification of medical ethics and with the acceptance that some lives are not worthy to be lived. Programmes such as New Zealand’s antenatal screening programme, change people’s pattern of thinking towards the survivors of eugenics. Parents of survivors are asked why they were not screened and aborted. “It reduces the person to an object” Mrs Joseph said. While the Nazi establishment used the term ‘selection’ to justify their killing of the vulnerable, the New Zealand Ministry of Health uses the term ‘choice’. “The right to choose is fast becoming the duty to choose.” Mrs Josesph said.
Dr Deidre Little, a GP in rural NSW, has also provided intrapartum obstetric care for 27 years. Dr Little discussed the topic “Prenatal Testing and How it Links with Eugenics.” Her presentation began with a history of eugenics reflecting on the driving force behind the Nazi eugenic programme – the separation of biological power from a moral sense, and an abandonment of medical ethos. In fact 44% of medical profession joined the Nazi party. The next biggest group to join the Nazi party were lawyers which made up 24%.
In 2004 it became best practice for all obstetricians in New Zealand and Australia to implement screening of pregnant women for Down syndrome and other conditions. Medical professions who do not offer the screening are seen to be not following best practice guidelines and could be sued for malpractice.
Dr Little explained in great detail the different screening results to be expected, the scientific methods behind them and the fact that the medical profession accept false positives (where mothers are told they have a high risk for a child with Down syndrome, when in fact the child doesn’t have Down syndrome) as being necessary. The medical profession also accept high mortality rates after more invasive testing (such as amniocentesis – 1% and CVS – 3%), because the so-called benefit outweighs this cost.
Mike Sullivan, spokesman for Saving Downs, spoke on “Advocating for those with Down Syndrome in the Room and in the Womb”. Mike explained the basis of the case before the International Criminal Court, pointing out that the New Zealand Government’s current cabinet paper envisages that 90% of those women screened for Down syndrome would abort their unborn child. He articulated that many parents of people with Down Syndrome feel the current antenatal screening programme devalues their children.
Diane Belcher, founder of the Spina Bifida Association of New Zealand gave a very emotional and heart touching personal account of her ongoing struggles of having a child with Spina Bifida. She also shared how pregnant mothers were being screened for children with Spina Bifida as routine practice. Diane expressed her deep pain knowing that children with Spina Bifida are deemed to have little worth by medical professionals and society as a whole.
Dr Catherine Hallagan, a GP from Wellington and Chair of the New Zealand Health Professionals Alliance spoke on “Conscientious Objection for a Health Practitioner, its Legal Status in New Zealand and its Significance”. Since the time of Hippocrates in the 3rd Century B.C medicine has core ethical values which mar it out as a moral activity. The practice of medicine assumes a doctor will act in good conscience. The Hippocratic Oath and ethics of medicine were refined on Judeo, Christian and Islamic teaching. Conscientious Objection is the appeal to conscience to refuse to perform acts that threaten the person’s sense of moral integrity. Doctors and nurses, as well as patients, may appeal to conscience in declining to perform a particular procedure or to undergo treatment. An employer can not discriminate against an employee who appeals to one’s conscience. This is clearly stated in three New Zealand acts of parliament: The Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.
Colleen Bayer, National Director and founder of Family Life International NZ, launched the Therese Programme as a response to the needs of mothers and other family members whose unborn family member has had an adverse diagnosis. “We care. We will advocate for you and offer you any practical and financial help needed on this journey”. Colleen also spoke of two children whom Family Life International has been able to help through our Centre – Benedict, who was to be born with no brain and was expected to be born still, or at best gasping for breath (he is now a happy young boy attending school), and Elizabeth Therese (who the programme is named after), a six-year-old with Down syndrome, heart defects, ADHD, is profoundly deaf and also has a condition which will see her lose her sight at some point in her life.
Feedback from the Loving Every Child: Defying Eugenics Seminar has been very uplifting with people fascinated with the calibre of the speakers and what they were able to learn on these key issues effecting the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society.
DVDs can be obtained by downloading a form and ordering direct from Myriam Tape Ministries.
Blog written by Brendan Roberts and Michelle Kaufman.