Lucas Warren, the 2018 “Gerber spokesbaby,” is the first child with Down syndrome selected to be a “Gerber baby.” Speakers at a recent United Nations panel said aborting a child with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is a gross violation of human rights. CNS photo/courtesy Warren family, handout via Reuters

Mary Marrocco: Power of compassion can overcome rage

  • March 27, 2018

An article defending the widespread practice of abortion for babies with Down syndrome disturbed me.  

The article wasn’t just defending a position I disagree with, but actually burned with rage. This, from a regular columnist in a prominent Canadian news source. Also upsetting was that, under the guise of caring for the vulnerable, it obscured the extermination of people with slight genetic differences from the author.

The problem is no longer just about abortion — now so dominant it’s a wonder people feel they need to shoot off verbal grenades in its defence. It’s not just about euthanasia, though hardly anybody suggests anymore that those aborted aren’t babies, arguing rather that some lives aren’t worth living. We hear we can’t afford to look after our sick and our differently-abled, views wrapped up in pink-packaged pills and nicely-worded language.

The problem is now also genocide. That’s the word the columnist reacts to, as it’s used to describe the extremely high rates of abortion in response to positive pre-natal testing for Down syndrome. Every genocide is rationalized, of course. Without it people will suffer, as this author argues. Besides, she continues, babies with Down syndrome aren’t a “group.” It’s the people calling it genocide who are the problem!

How have these ways of thinking and speaking become so commonplace in our society? Where does this rage come from?

Some of these problems echo Christian misunderstandings. There’s the idea we have to somehow be perfect and we mustn’t be angry. There’s the sense we can and should control life. There’s the notion that God kills his own Son out of love.

The fatal human error we just can’t seem to shake is the idea that by killing we restore peace, as if violence will put life in order.  Getting the violence out of us, even out of religion, defies all our systems and programs.

How can we possibly address these questions when we are polarized, frightened and enraged? How can we not address them, given their urgency? Attacking back can’t be the answer. Nor can apathetic silence. 

Jesus preferred to live and die in another way. He is the “light the darkness could not comprehend” (John 1). He gives, not more violence, but the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist. The point is, we are called to be like Him. Though we get trapped in our inability to hear each other, we must release each other from violence and rage. How?

One of the gifts poured out on us at Easter is Jesus’ compassion, in life and death. In this too, we can follow Him. We are the ones who kill the Son of God, but the violence of the cross breaks our violence. Human compassion becomes possible because of Easter. 

During Lent, I observed the power of compassion.  Accompanying a relative to emergency, we were prepared for the large dose of form-filling and queuing, and a lengthy waiting-room stint. We weren’t prepared to find something other than bureaucracy and efficiency going on there: compassion was going on. Here are just three examples of many observed. 

A shabby old man with a cane sat alone in a corner. His hearing wasn’t sharp, his understanding of English halting. Soon a staff person came over, addressing him personally and respectfully as “Mr. Santo,” and made sure he understood before going away. Later, someone found him a more comfortable waiting spot. Afterward, someone else came and walked him around the waiting area, listening and talking with him. His hours alone in emergency could have been miserable, but Mr. Santo looked almost radiant.

A raging young man was brought in by police, shrieking and lashing out. Staff treated him gently and courteously. One officer said: “Calm down — I want to treat you like a person.”

New patients kept arriving on stretchers and the place was almost bursting. A busy paramedic, seeing a woman sitting behind a stretcher he’d brought, said to his patient:  “I’m going to lower you so you and your sister can see each other.” After that, the two women could find communion in their waiting.

In response to violence, anguish and vulnerability, the staff were neither violent, controlling nor blaming. They shone with compassion and translated it into whatever action they could. Didn’t we glimpse the light of the Resurrection in that long wait in emergency, among people who were on the cross?  

In responding to the violent practices now common among us, and the simmering rage, where could compassion take us? I’m not sure, but I’m sure we need to go.

We could begin, like the disciples, by noticing the Resurrection. “Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark” (John 20).

We could share our glimpses of the Resurrection. “They set out at once” (Luke 24). So can we. Time is running out.

(Marrocco can be reached at