Thirteen-year-old Lukas Moeller has Down syndrome. His father is a doctor who came to Australia from Germany to help fill a shortage of physicians in rural communities.
But now Australia has rejected Dr. Bernhard Moeller's application for residency, saying Lukas does not meet the “health requirement” and would pose a burden on taxpayers for his medical care, education and other services.
The case has provoked an outcry in the rural region of southeastern Victoria state, where Moeller is the only internal medicine specialist for a community of 54,000 people. Residents rallied outside his practice this week demanding the decision be overturned, and hundreds of Internet and radio complaints from across the country bombarded media outlets Friday.
Moeller vowed to fight the ruling.
“We like to live here, we have settled in well, we are welcomed by the community here, and we don't want to give up just because the federal government doesn't welcome my son,” he told reporters Friday.
Victoria Premier John Brumby has pledged to support the family's appeal, and federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said Friday she would speak to the immigration minister about the case.
Moeller moved to Australia two years ago with his wife, Isabella; their daughter, Sarah, 21; and sons Lukas and Felix, 17, to help fill a critical need for doctors in rural areas. They settled in Horsham, a town of 20,000 about 100 miles northwest of Melbourne.
Moeller's temporary work visa is valid until 2010, but his application for permanent residence was rejected this week.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship cited Lukas' “existing medical condition,” saying it was “likely to result in a significant and ongoing cost to the Australian community,” according to a statement Thursday.
“This is not discrimination. A disability in itself is not grounds for failing the health requirement – it is a question of the cost implications to the community,” the statement said.
Moeller said immigration authorities did not take into account the family's ability to give Lukas the care he needs.
“They think he is a burden for the Australian community,” Moeller told the Melbourne radio station 3AW. “But we are absolutely able to support him, and I don't want him to rely on any government pension, anyway. He's well looked after. And actually he can contribute to the community here. He already is contributing to it.”
Moeller said Lukas attends a mainstream elementary school, where he has an aide, and receives speech therapy. The boy also plays soccer, cricket, golf and table tennis.
Cora Halder, head of the Down Syndrome InfoCenter in Germany, called the decision outlandish.
“The case with the Australian authorities is disappointing and unacceptable – especially because Australia has very advanced programs for people with Down syndrome, far more than in Germany,” she told The Associated Press.
David Tolleson, executive director of the Atlanta-based National Down Syndrome Congress, agreed.
“What is the cost implication to the community of a doctor shortage? I assume the son had the same costs for the last two years and they were happy to have the family and use the dad as a doctor.”
Down syndrome, caused by an extra chromosome, is characterized by mental retardation of varying degrees. Those with the condition also can have other problems: Nearly half will have a heart defect, some serious enough to require surgery soon after birth.