A close look at society’s values proves troubling

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If societies are built upon ideals, those of the United States lay in confusing conflict with one another.

Take, for example, the Purple Heart, a medal that symbolizes sacrifice.

Unlike other medals, it is not given out for bravery or valor, rather, it is simply given in recognition of those whose lives will be forever changed by their wounds – or the lives of their families which are changed by their deaths.

If societies are built upon ideals, those of the United States lay in confusing conflict with one another.

Take, for example, the Purple Heart, a medal that symbolizes sacrifice.

Unlike other medals, it is not given out for bravery or valor, rather, it is simply given in recognition of those whose lives will be forever changed by their wounds – or the lives of their families which are changed by their deaths.

An estimated 1.8 million Americans have received the Purple Heart since its institution in 1932. Of those, 1,076,245 were given to those who served in World War II.

World War II is one of the most easily justifiable foreign wars in which the US has become entangled. The Allies fought to free Europe from the grasp of advancing Nazism and Fascism, and in doing so, they uncovered unthinkable atrocities, crimes against humanity that still leave us shaken: the holocaust.

However, in the ominous shadow of the magnitude of slaughter and destruction of Jews across Europe, a group of victims tends to be overlooked.

The Nazi euthanasia program was extensive. According to the BCC, some 275,000 people with mental and physical disabilities were murdered in Nazi gas chambers. Although initial euthanasia programs ended in 1942 after outcry from certain outspoken German groups, the killings continued secretly in death camps like Hartheim Castle and Hadamar. Hadamar remained in use until just before its liberation by American troops.

The Nazi’s view of humans was despicable. They looked down on those who did not appear to be perfectly fit and able.

On the surface, America seems to be doing a better job appreciating the value of all of our community’s members.

Last week, I attended a fundraiser for St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center, an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities.

The fundraiser featured some of the beautiful artwork, jewelry and music of SMSC students, and the students themselves were there to greet and converse with guests. They were girded with charm and aplomb. It was a delightful day and truly humbling to see how some of the perceived weakest in our society prove to be some of the strongest.

Hitler’s idea of a perfect society was wrong. His view of strength and beauty was misguided. His perception of the inherent value of human life was entirely lacking.

But before a judgmental finger is pointed, maybe we should take a closer look at our own society.

The Washington Post cited a figure that more than two-thirds of American women choose to terminate their pregnancies when they find out their child has Down syndrome.

Ruth Marcus, a columnist for the Washington Post explained that understanding that a child born with Down syndrome will never be “what you want her to be” is different from “compelling a woman to give birth to a child whose intellectual capacity will be impaired, whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised.”

Proponents of terminating pregnancies of children with mental or physical disabilities refer to it as an act of mercy, sparing the child from a life of pain and suffering because those lives would be hampered with struggle, both physical as well as mental and emotional.

Ironically, that is the same logic Hitler used for his euthanasia program. Because we still do not know the cause of Down syndrome, children with Down syndrome have the same odds in the womb of American women today that they had in Nazi Germany.

Pro-choice advocates are quick to point out that science has made it clear that we do not end a life when we abort a fetus. We are not killing a soul, we are simply putting an end to a possibility.

But this is not a matter of science. In fact, this is not even a question of pro-choice of pro-life.

No, the issue here is why we choose to end the possibility of some lives and not others. Why is our society so quick to terminate a pregnancy that could result in the life of a person with down syndrome?

Perhaps, our society is still more self-serving than we think. We do not value the weak, we do not appreciate what makes us struggle. Convenience is our god, perfection our master. We are still looking for our own master race. Or, perhaps, we cannot imagine that humans can live through and thrive in greater difficulties than we ourselves have to face.

Our Purple Heart recipients are promised lives that will never be the same, their injuries complicating their futures. And yet we would never assume that their lives are no longer worth living, that their future struggles are not insurmountable or that their value to society is somehow lessened. We do not assume that their fractured lives cannot be overcome, redeemed, made full with purpose.

So why do we assume that a life that begins with those struggles is any different?

To compound the confusion of this societal double standard, some of our veterans have joined the ranks of society that, like children diagnosed with Down syndrome during pregnancy, are also deemed less worthy as they wrestle with homelessness and mental health.

We see the effects of that right here on the streets of East County.

How fickle our standards of worth are.

The stand our nation has taken on aborting children with medical complications, on homelessness and, still in some cases, on mental health is a slap in the face to the sacrifice to those who have been wounded in defense of the ideals for which this nation is supposed to be a bastion.

If, indeed, we have the right to choose, let us choose to protect our weak, to be brave for those who cannot make that choice yet, and in so doing honor those who have led the example in self-sacrifice.

Our society will be better for it.

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