Everyone can agree, finding a cure for a disability or illness is a reason to celebrate. When Lauren Schaidt saw a headline announcing the elimination of Down syndrome in Denmark, she thought it would be a celebratory article.
“I thought great, they must have found a way to prevent it,” Lauren said.
However, a terrifying trend in society today is eliminating the disabled instead of the disability. As she read the full article, Lauren had a very different reaction.
“I read that it was because they had been aborting the babies who were diagnosed in the womb—I was horrified,” she said.
Abortion rates for babies with Down syndrome in Denmark have reached nearly 100 percent, eliminating nearly every child with Down syndrome in that country. The problem is not just contained to Denmark. A 2012 University of South Carolina study looked at 25 separate studies about the number of Down syndrome abortions and found an average of 67 percent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are aborted.
Even though there are endless examples of people living joyful and fulfilling lives with Down syndrome, it is still difficult for today’s culture to see a human person as more than just their disability.
Lauren has her own experience of being seen only for her disability. She was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) as a baby. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis usually appearing in children under 16 and has varying degrees of severity. It’s also referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. In Lauren’s case, she had to use a wheelchair or crutches throughout most of her childhood and teenage years.
Lauren is now a Spanish teacher at Lutheran High School North in Macomb, Michigan. Several surgeries eventually helped Lauren to walk without assistance. Though she is still affected by arthritis, she can do so many more things than she could have imagined as a child.
Throughout her childhood, Lauren said many people would only focus on the things she could not do, not all the things she can do. People would give her pitying looks or comments as they walked by her. Once she was asked to be a part of a television ad to support research for her condition. She was only five years old, but she remembers how she felt about the experience.
“I had to sit there as someone talked about all the things I was unable to do,” she said. “The intention was good: to support research for this cause. But I didn’t like the way they were portraying my life. I thought, this is not me.”
Lauren remembers telling her mom how she felt about it, and her mom made sure they didn’t run an ad with her in it.
“Disability itself is a negative, but I didn’t equate that with my life,” Lauren said. “I didn’t want that to be my story. There are so many good parts about my life, too.”
Lauren enjoys telling her story of hope to encourage other people with disabilities and their parents, showing there is more to the story than the disability itself.
“Discovering a disability can be a scary thing, but I want people to know that it can be okay, your child can be okay,” she said. “The big question people ask is: what quality of life do disabled people have? Well, I have a great quality of life. Some people can’t imagine that, but I want to show it to them.”
Suffering, Lauren explained, is poorly understood by our culture that seems to believe the lives of the disabled aren’t worth living, including children with Down syndrome.
“People don’t realize the joy you can experience through pain and suffering,” Lauren said. “Yes, you hope to make it through, but there are also so many blessings along the way.”
Lauren attributed her faith in God as a huge factor in helping her deal with suffering. She said the Bible verse Romans 8:28 is a powerful inspiration for her, because it says that God will bring good out of every circumstance.
Lauren hopes that the many people who are faced with life and death decisions relating to children with Down syndrome or other disabilities can come to realize the important truth: their life always has value.
“Life is always a gift from God,” she said. “In every circumstance or stage.”