Undercover in the secret groups saving Down’s Syndrome with our Shmedia Correspondent Sarah Hoss
(an abbreviated version of this blog is published in the official Down Syndrome Association Journal Feb 2015.)
No sooner had I emailed my first article (for publication in the DSA 2014 Journal) than it all kicked off on social media – with the traditional media trailing behind and trying to keep up.
A 34 year old writer preserving her anonymity on Twitter by using the handle
@InYourFaceNewYorker took to Twitter on August 20th 2014 to pose a (hypothetical) question:
“I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.”
This tweet inspired a swift response, from none other than Prof Richard Dawkins, who replied:
“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you
have the choice”.
And before we knew it, the issue was being raised in phone-ins, (in particular, BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions), in the Independent and became the subject for the ‘God Spot’ on Radio 2.
Richard Dawkins is an ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.
It was a tad unnerving and also liberating to be able to not just listen in to this digital dialogue but also to participate. The (in my opionion) somehwat hapless professor was deluged with opposition to the point that he issued a follow-up:
‘Those intrepid enough to venture onto my Twitter feed will have noticed a new feeding frenzy yesterday (20thAugust 2014), for which I apologise’.
Not quite the apology many had anticipated.
I chose to engage by sharing a coupe of photos and stating I’d fight til my last breath for my son. Not everyone was so kind, (lots of what can only described as ‘trolling’ ensued) but many parents spoke out in support of their offspring. An American newspaper featured the story; explaining that these polite responses helped win over many.
‘They (the parents) showed him unbelievable grace, and rebuked his words in the most beautiful way imaginable. Using Twitter – the same outlet that Dawkins had to make his opinion known -they explained to him in magnificent imagery exactly why he was wrong.’
Thanks to social media, we can all participate in the debate now, which at one time was the preserve of the privileged few who had access to the media and law-makers. Ignoring the very sensitive nature of the subject, how fantastic is it that we can all stand up and voice our opinions and be heard?
From one tactless little tweet came an outpouring of such support, love and respect for individuals with Down’s that refuted the stereotype that still seems to grip many in the intelligentsia. Those who felt moved to speak out, due to the transparency and immediacy of social media, are helping change the culture.
With every positive message and photograph we are contributing to the sum of human knowledge and in doing so helping to knock down the barriers that held back previous generations and limited life chances, particularly for young people with Down’s.
What about the anonymous lady who had sparked the debate? She admitted it was all a moot point since she wasn’t going to have children. Probably for the best eh?