Trig Palin Can Change the Pace

Planned Parenthood has garnered over $800,000 with a cheap shot fundraising email encouraging donations in Sarah Palin’s name, but the Alaska Governor has dished out some grand comeuppance by inspiring the passage of H.R. 3112, a bill that requires physicians to inform pregnant mothers of all available options when receiving the news that they are carrying a special needs child.

The bill was a response to the high abortion rates of special needs children, and was delivered to the President’s desk yesterday.

In the wake of criticism about her poor TV appearances, it is a beautiful example of one’s actions speaking louder than one’s words.

H.R. 3112 was introduced over 14 months ago, but a press release by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, (R-Wisc.), said "Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome, renewed interest in the legislation."

Palin introduced her child to Alaskans when she birthed him last April, and then to a national audience at her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. After her speech, she scooped up Trig from her teenage daughter’s arms, and cradled him across her chest for 54 seconds of the 4 1/2 minute ovation.

It wasn’t a shy move, considering who was watching: a teeming convention crowd and 37 million viewers on national television.

Since then, the move has been hailed as a benchmark for increased recognition of special needs children, and the importance of reducing the rates at which mothers abort them. It also been criticized as a calculated political maneuver. No one had actually seen Palin hold the child in public before that evening, and critics felt it was at odds with her public stances on family values.

But the widespread support for H.R. 3112 made it clear that Palin’s move was seen as geniune by more than just a few partisan observers.

“I am pleased that the bill received such overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle,” said Sessenbrenner. “We have a moral and ethical responsibility to maximize the likelihood that children with disabilities will be welcomed into the world like other children, and that their families will be supported in their efforts to help their children thrive."

If Palin is elected Vice President, her choice to birth her son and not shield him from the spotlight could have even more far-reaching implications. Lets consider the typical profile of presidential or vice presidential children: either adults or teenagers; married, or at least partnered, possibly with children themselves; college-educated, or pursuing a college degree, usually at a high-end institution; at least halfway decent to look at, sometimes glamorous, and typically with a minor scandal and/or a humanitarian trip abroad to claim as their own; usually irrelevant, or, politically unimportant.

If his mother is elected Vice President, Trig Palin will be a change of pace.

Why have we not yet seen someone with his disorder on the national political scene? Where are the examples of highly-visible, political offspring who are, as Palin put it, "perfect" but not "normal"?

Examples don’t exist often because they are killed off in utero. Around one in 1,000 children are diagnosed with Down syndrome before they’re born, but only about 10% of those children are actually brought to term. This leaves the U.S. with a steadily decreasing number of children who have the disorder; it’s currently at about 5,500 per year.

Perhaps the only widely known figure with Down syndrome is Chris Burke. An actor with Down syndrome, he was able to reach an audience unfamiliar with his disability through his character Corky Thatcher in the television drama Life Goes On. Burke’s Thatcher provided a glimpse of the doldrums, and consequently, the drama, of day-to-day living with Down syndrome, including the impact on the family.

That show was over in 1993. Since then, other shows and films used such mental disabilities as props — either to garner sympathy for other characters (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), a sense of purpose (Rain Man), or to provide comic relief (There’s Something About Mary). Mostly, these characters exist to provide Academy Awards.

Without that level of humanization, it’s no wonder its taken this long for a bill to be passed that recognizes the importance of carrying children diagnosed with this disorder to term, and no wonder the executive branch hasn’t adopted an awareness initiative for Down syndrome as it has for AIDS, breast cancer, literacy, or other public health issues.

Let’s face it: there really aren’t any highly visible examples of women who lead a fulfilling personal and professional life while simultaneously raising a disabled child. Enter Sarah Palin, with a great job, cool hobbies, a hot hubby, and a huge brood—one of whom is a child who is unlikely to ever live life independently.

"We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives," Palin said after his birth. "We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place."