Ethan Saylor, Down Syndrome, and Human Dignity: Why babies with Down syndrome are still being aborted

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Earlier this year, a young man with Down syndrome named Robert Ethan Saylor was killed. He lived in Frederick, Maryland, and one night, he wanted to see a movie. After it ended, he wanted to see it again, and so he stayed in the movie theater. Off-duty police officers working at the theater were called, and it was these police officers who were responsible for his death. He died due to positional asphyxia, something that a police department spokesperson admitted they were trained to avoid.

Ever since this senseless death happened, questions as to how Ethan could have died have been raised. The three police officers responsible kept their jobs. An internal investigation, conducted by the police department itself, took place, and no information was released – not to the family, and not to the public. Some documents are finally coming to light, though, and revealing an even more horrific side to this already tragic story.

Ethan went to the movies that evening with a caretaker, an 18-year-old woman who was one of a number of aides who worked with the Saylor family to help Ethan have as normal a life as possible. And she explained to authorities in the investigation what happened.

Ethan, due to his mental disability, sometimes had angry outbursts. When the movie ended, he liked it so much that he stood up and clapped, and then wanted to see it a second time. When they went to leave the theater, he got angry. His aide called his mother and another caretaker who told her to give him a few minutes to calm down. While the aide went to get the car, Ethan returned to the theater. When she went to get him, the manager confronted her. She tried to explain that they were having an issue and that she was going to take care of it, but the manager still went and got police officers. And that is where the story takes a turn for the worst.

“Then the sheriff went in and started talking to Ethan and Ethan was cursing at him,” the woman wrote, adding that the officer threatened to arrest Saylor. “I then said, ‘Please don’t touch him, he will freak out.’”

An autopsy report said that Saylor did not like to be touched and suddenly the deputies had their hands on him. The 294-pound man flailed, cursed and cried for his mother, according to witness accounts.

The aide heard Ethan crying and screaming, telling them not to touch him. And then suddenly, everything stopped.

As the deputies tried to restrain and lead Saylor from the theater, the four fell in a heap on a slightly inclined ramp and, during a struggle, the deputies placed three sets of handcuffs on him. When Saylor suddenly grew quiet and unresponsive, the deputies removed the handcuffs and administered CPR.

The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore ruled Saylor’s death a homicide as a result of asphyxia. There was unexplained damage to his larynx.

Witnesses reported seeing a deputy with his knee on Ethan’s back. The medical examiner listed his cause of death as homicide. According to the autopsy, his voicebox was fractured, and his lungs had filled with blood. The autopsy also showed that he had a number of bruises, cuts, and abrasions.

Did I mention that the police officers responsible, who ignored the warnings of Ethan’s aide, received no punishment and are still working today?

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with the appalling number of babies with Down syndrome who are aborted. Consider the reaction to the murder of Ethan Saylor. There has been very little attention paid to it, outside Down syndrome communities and organizations. Many people who are familiar with the story side with the police. The aide should have handled it better, they say. He shouldn’t have been in a public place. Or they say, He was a 300-pound man with Down syndrome; of course the police had to get physical with him.

He deserved it. He should have stayed home. That’s the reaction when people read this story. The astounding lack of compassion and willingness to extend basic human dignity towards another human being, simply because he has a disability or mental illness, is terrifying. Ethan Saylor was a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome who was treated like an animal, and the people responsible left with no repercussions whatsoever. Most people don’t know about this tragedy, and a good number of the ones who do think the officers did nothing wrong.

If no one bats an eye when a man with a disability is treated like an animal, then why would anyone care about the slaughter of unborn children with Down syndrome? People learn about the homicide of a man with Down syndrome, over the price of a movie ticket, and think he brought it on himself – for being mentally disabled, for being out in public, for having the nerve to get angry at police officers.

We put such low value on the lives of those with disabilities, robbing them of basic human dignity at every turn. Heaven forbid they go out in public, because they may not act “correctly.” Heaven forbid they get angry over something, because people with Down syndrome are supposed to be little balls of happiness and sunshine 24/7. Heaven forbid someone who doesn’t always know how to act “normally” think he deserves to be treated just like the rest of us.

Is it any wonder, then, that when a mother gets a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome or another disability or birth defect, her first instinct is to kill her baby?

Stopping the Down syndrome holocaust isn’t about stopping advanced prenatal testing. It will take more than just getting more information and resources out there. If we are going to stop the murders of these defenseless children, then we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Many pro-lifers advocate for unborn children with Down syndrome, but if we aren’t also trying to change hearts and minds – to show others that people with disabilities also deserve respect, dignity, and compassion – then we will be failing them.

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