This speech was given Thursday September 18 on the Senate floor
Madam President, we also, I think, need a government that will stand up for the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us as well. I have got a real story of human heroism that I wanted to share with the body, and then I am hopeful we can agree to a piece of legislation that Senator Kennedy and I have done that has been rolled into this bigger package that has drawn a lot of difficulty. But this is a piece Senator Kennedy and I have worked on for a couple of years now. There is no reason for this to be blocked. So I am hopeful we can then move to it and pass it through this body, move it on forward.
I have got a picture of a gentleman. I want to show you a wonderful man. This is Thomas Vander Woude. This is an incredible story here in the suburbs around Washington, DC. On September 8, Thomas Vander Woude returned from mass that he had gone to in Gainesville, VA. He attended mass regularly and was working in his yard with his youngest son, who is 20 years old, Joseph. He is known by the family as Josie. Josie is a Downs syndrome adult. He fell through a 2 foot by 2 foot piece of metal that covered an opening to a septic tank, Josie did. His dad Thomas immediately rushed to his aid. According to an account in the Washington Post, when he saw that Joseph could not keep his head above the muck, Vander Woude, who was 66, jumped in the tank, ``submerged himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck.''
Tom Vander Woude saved his son, but he drowned in the process. As it is stated so eloquently: There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another. And Tom Vander Woude laid down his life for his 20-year-old Downs syndrome son. This is a beautiful story that has taken place of the dedication of a father for his son, an act of heroism, but in his quiet life of dedication to his son, to his wife Mary Ellen of 43 years, to his six sons, 24 grandchildren, and to his country. Tom served his Nation as a pilot in Vietnam, and after the war worked as a commercial airline pilot. Around the community of Gainesville, though, he was known as a generous neighbor, a volunteer at church, a basketball and soccer coach for the high school in Manassas that five of his sons attended. He was also a farmer, something dear to my heart, I know to the Chair, the Presiding Officer as well. Most of all, he was known as Josie's devoted dad. Wherever you found Tom--at a game, at church, helping a neighbor--there was Josie, lending a hand. Tom Vander Woude knew the value of his son's life. He considered it so precious that he gave his own to save it. He never considered the special care and attention that Joseph required because of his Downs syndrome, he never considered that a burden to the family. On the contrary, ``he always considered Joseph a wonderful blessing to the family,'' a special gift from God who brings out the best in his family and the lives of all of those he touches.
This is true of so many families who have children with difficulties. They find that through all of the difficulty and trial of caring for and providing for their child who has a mental disability, these special individuals are ambassadors of love and of understanding, filled with an openness and unconditional affection that acts as a humanizing force of compassion in their families and in their communities. But we have to be open to this kind of gift and to the potential of every human life to make our world a better place.
Now that I reflect on Tom Vander Woude and the value he placed on the life of his son, I also thought of Sarah Palin and what she said about her son, Trig, born in April. When the Governor and her husband Todd were told last year that the child she was expecting in May would be born with Downs syndrome, they knew that ending that pregnancy was never an option for them. After all, why would it be? ``We understand,'' she was quoted as saying at the time, ``that every innocent life has wonderful potential.'' The problem is that between 80 and 90 percent of the children diagnosed with Downs syndrome in the United States will not make it to the world, simply because they have a positive genetic test in prenatal screening, tests which can be wrong, by the way.
I have had a number of people come up to me and say they had a positive Downs syndrome designation and the child was born and the child did not have Downs syndrome. America is poorer because of this. To deny children with disabilities a chance at life will make us more insensitive, callous, and jaded, and will take away from the diversity of American life. I do not think this is what we were meant to do. So Senator Kennedy and I, for about 2 years now, have been working on a bill. What we are trying to do with this bill is to see that more Downs syndrome children make it here and get here. It is a pretty simple bill that establishes a registry of people who are willing to adopt Downs syndrome children. So that if someone gets that diagnosis and they say, I cannot handle it, fine. The answer is not to kill the child, the answer is to put the child up for adoption. We have got people willing to adopt it, and also to put forward information to people about the current condition of a Downs syndrome child and what all is available, because a lot is available for this child.So we worked a long time, got the spending lined up--we are in good shape on that--and we are ready to move forward with this so we can get more of these special kids here. What I was hoping we can do, and we had it almost passed through, and then this got caught up in the clutter of things, was that we could get this bill hot-lined--Senator Kennedy's sister is a big proponent of this, has done great work with the Special Olympics--that we could do this. It got caught up in this overall package. Nobody objects to this bill. What I would like to see us do is let us take the pieces of this overall omnibus that we can agree to and let's do them. So then we have got some progress that is being shown.
UNANIMOUS-CONSENT REQUEST--S. 1810 I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of Calendar No. 701, S. 1810, the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act. The lead sponsors are Senator Kennedy and myself. I ask unanimous consent that the amendment at the desk be agreed to, the committee-reported amendment, as amended, be agreed to, the bill as amended be read a third time and passed, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table with no interviewing action or debate, and that we can get more of these special children here.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the lone dissnenting vote that defeated this measure.
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