Down Syndrome, Alzheimer's, and a Culture of Life

In a moving column, George Will celebrates the life of his 40-year-old son, who happens to have Down Syndrome. The column, in my view, points to the necessary integration of the pro-life and pro-social justice (and yes, pro-universal health care) message.Children with Down Syndrome can live longer thanks to many medical advances. But middle age for them brings a very difficult set of challenges. Between 90 and 100 percent of people with Down syndrome will suffer from early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Parents of children with Down syndrome need to plan for their children's futures, contemplating that their children will need even more care just as they begin to need care themselves. Few families have the resources to provide for patients suffering from Alzheimer's (which cost Americans an estimated 200 billion last year, much of it covered by Medicare and Medicaid) . Families who have children or siblings suffering from the combination problems of Down syndrome and Alzheimer's will need even more helpThe negative prohibition--do not kill -- is a necessary floor in moral thinking. But for the very vulnerable, including the physically and mentally impaired, it is by no means sufficient. The vulnerable, young and old, need positive assistance if they are to thrive. And no average family can meet the challenges of Alzheimer's Disease --with or without Down syndrome-- on its own.It doesn't just take a village. It takes a nation. It takes the common good.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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