(A printable version of this page can be found here:  Rowan’s Informational Page)

Let’s Talk About It, In Memory of Rowan

Rowan, in the waiting room, just before he is killed

Rowan – One hour before he was killed

A Special Needs diagnosis is often incorrectly taken to assume a financial burden to society, or a description of a massively debilitated individual, or an individual who is “going to die anyway”. But these assumptions simply cannot be applied to individuals based on a diagnosis. And none of these assumptions were true for Rowan.

Rowan was a happy and energetic two year-old boy, who embraced life to the fullest. He was loved by his proud big sister, and cherished by his mother and father. With sticky hands, and a big heart, Rowan greeted each day with a loud “Hi!” and a huge smile.

Tragically, Rowan walked into a renowned children’s hospital for a “routine” outpatient diagnostic procedure and was killed within the hour. Rowan was gassed to death, right before his parents’ eyes. Why? Because he was denied a simple accommodation which would have prevented his death. Because his mothers’ voice, and her pleas for his safety, were ignored. Because his life was not seen as deserving of the care afforded to his “typical” peers. Because he was not seen as Rowan [1].

November 29

Rowan heading off for an adventure in Florida. One Month before he was killed.

Individuals like Rowan contribute greatly to our society. Like many two year-olds, Rowan was amazing, curious, funny, sweet, and ever-messy. But Rowan also stood out from the average – he already practiced empathy at a level that is rarely seen in other children or even adults, spoke one language more fluently than his parents (and was quickly learning a second), had an uncanny knack for facial recognition, had a rare ability to make animals at ease, adapted to the ways of life in three different countries, and had the ability to find a stranger’s biggest smile. Rowan was a child who had Special Needs and at the age of two, he had already proven that his life had worth. He had already debunked many preconceptions, and was at the beginning of his journey to becoming an independent adult and a contributing member of our society.

Sadly, prejudices associated with Special Needs are often held by the very people entrusted to care for all of the members of our society. Special Needs Discrimination in Healthcare is real, and has recently been well documented. Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics, states that “Discrimination in health care should be a source of outrage. Instead, it is often overlooked or ignored.” [2] A 2013 study reports that one in four participants said they had been encouraged by a medical professional to abort after a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. [3] In addition, a recent review revealed 35 more scientific studies describing profound and systematic discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. [4] These studies conclude that this systematic discrimination begins very early in life for those who differ from the norm, and prevents access to adequate healthcare, as well as dramatically reducing the quality of care that they do receive. They also identified children and adults with intellectual disabilities as one of the most at-risk populations for suffering the serious negative consequences of discrimination in healthcare. Rowan’s story is just one tragic example of the most serious of these consequences.

Please help bring awareness to Special Needs Discrimination in Healthcare, and improve legislation to protect these valuable individuals, in memory of Rowan.

IMG_2026 December 8

Rowan and his Big sister excited about Christmas. One week before he was killed.

Please find Rowan’s story at http://www.rowansmile.me


[1] Mueller-Gibbs, T. https://rowansmile.me/special-needs-discrimination-in-healthcare/summary-rowan-and-discrimination/ 2015.

[2] Shriver, T. “Left Behind: Health Care and People with Intellectual Disabilities”. The Center for Global Health and Diplomacy, Winter 2013.

[3] Nelson, et al “Receiving the initial Down syndrome diagnosis: a comparison of prenatal and postnatal parent group experiences.” Intellect Dev Disabil. 2013 Dec;51(6):446-57. doi: 10.1352/1934-9556-51.6.446.

[4] Gibbs, D. https://rowansmile.me/special-needs-discrimination-references/ 2014.

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