Families of Down syndrome children respond to Laws' remarks

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Litza Devine with 4-year-old Oliver, and a photo of 4-month-old baby Max who lost his fight to live last year.  Photo/Bevan Conley
Litza Devine with 4-year-old Oliver, and a photo of 4-month-old baby Max who lost his fight to live last year. Photo/Bevan Conley

Michael Laws caused a furore when his views on Down syndrome children were made public following a Facebook conversation with Keith Maynard, the father of a disabled child. Mr Maynard supported the pre-natal test to discover if a foetus suffered from Down syndrome but said prospective parents should then talk to the parents of other Down children so they could make an informed decision on whether to abort or not.

Whanganui District Health Board member Mr Laws commented: "Like most people I'd automatically abort a DS foetus.

"For some twisted reason, because you've drawn the short straw, you think others should share your fate ... the rest of us don't want severely disabled kids: Couldn't think of anything worse."

The former Wanganui mayor and district councillor called Mr Maynard a "retard" and a "fascist" and said: "Down's is a bad thing: It's a serious disability. If we can eradicate it, we should."

Chronicle reporter Merania Karauria spoke to two families upset by Mr Laws' comments and who present a different perspective on life with a disabled child.

Debbie Joblin ignores most negative comments about Down syndrome children, but her blood boiled over when she heard Michael Laws' remarks.

"Ignorant, disrespectful remarks should be ignored," she said.

"But attitudes such as Mr Laws have no place in a caring society where differences are embraced and celebrated."

Olivia Joblin-Alward, the youngest child in the family of eight, has Down syndrome. "I did not want to inflame the situation ... however, we felt we needed to speak up on Olivia's behalf and talk about the joy she brings to our family and how important she is to us."

Although Olivia has special needs and can be hard work, they accept her just the way she is for the love and joy she brings to the family.

"Olivia has a large extended family and a lot of friends, and I don't know one of them who would think this world would be better without her.

"She has the same rights as everyone else - and the right to be respected. Olivia accepts everyone as she finds them, and is open and honest."

Down syndrome people do not possess an inner critic, and say what they think, Ms Joblin said.

And while there might be some embarrassing moments, Down's people were not malicious.

Olivia attends St Anne's where she is embraced by the school family and is a member of the Special Olympics crew.

Ms Joblin said Mr Laws talked about the right of women to test and abort, but women needed to make an informed choice. "I was given the choice and did not test. I have never regretted that because we love having Olivia in our life."

Ms Joblin said if she did not speak out it would have meant she agreed with the comments. "Having a Down's child gives people the opportunity to be a better person, by being kind, caring and tolerant."

Ms Joblin said she had listened to Mr Laws defend his comments on the Good Morning show. "It might have been a personal conversation with a parent, but it made it on to national television."

Max Devine was only 4-months-old when he lost his battle for life last year.

Litza and Dominic Devine are still emotional when they speak of their little boy, who was - and still is - special to his 10 brothers and sisters.

Max had Down syndrome and was very ill, spending most of his life in Starship children's hospital. He had a month at home, on and off, Mrs Devine said.

"Max was my 11th child and, in the four months we had him, he gave more to this family in his short life than all my other children. He made us come out of our self-centredness."

It was Michael Laws' comments about Down syndrome people that devastated Max's family.

"He does not have an understanding of people," Mrs Devine said. "He should not hold office at the health board - what is he representing in our community? You teach your children to be charitable and they learn by example. I feel sorry for his family.

"When his little girl was sick, the Wanganui community pulled together. His family were so blessed, but he has cursed himself with his words."

After the loss of Max, the family were comforted by their parish priest, Father Cranshaw, who told them that their son was sent not just for his family, but for his parish family as well.

Mrs Devine said Max had "a knowing" in his eyes, something none of her other children had.

Despite being in pain a lot of the time, the family knew he was a gift who gave so much to all he touched.

As the family prepare for Christmas, there is a present for Max. And a present for each of the children from Max.

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