In Australia, much like the United States, only 5.3% of people diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome are actually born. About 95% of people with Down syndrome are never given the chance to live their lives. That means 95% of parents who receive such a diagnosis for their child have given in to their fears and now live everyday with the pain of having ended their child’s life.
News.com.au asks, “Is this the beginning of the end for Down syndrome?” And it very well could be.
In the article, which first appeared in QWeekend Magazine, the author visits with families of children and adults with Down syndrome. Each admitted to having initially struggled with the diagnosis, whether it came during the pregnancy or at birth. But none regretted their child, each boasting about their child’s accomplishments – from the five-year-old little girl learning to write to the adult who participates in international competitive swimming. Each of their stories leaves you wondering, what’s the big societal problem with people with Down syndrome?
There isn’t one.
Our society is overall supportive of everyone with any type of disability or health condition. From inclusive education to Special Olympics, the majority of us now treat people with different abilities with respect and kindness. Unless of course, those people are still in their mother’s womb.
It’s the common “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. If I can’t see it, it isn’t really happening.
But these are real people we’re talking about. Actual lives that are being ended because they have Down syndrome. There is no other reason. And just as society discriminated against people with Down syndrome in the past by labeling them “idiots” and placing them in institutions, society today discriminates against them by telling their parents to kill them. Despite the fact that there are new medical technologies to help them live healthier and longer lives. Despite the fact that there are numerous programs to help them lead more fulfilling lives. And despite the fact that families of people with Down syndrome and people with Down syndrome themselves report being happy with their lives.
Despite all of these advances and improved life outcomes, we no longer institutionalize people with Down syndrome, we actually kill them.
And it’s all thanks to pre-natal testing. And the less invasive and expensive it gets, the more people will die. Isn’t that the opposite of what medical advances are meant to do?
Instead of doctors informing parents of all the resources available to them and their child, they tell them only of the stereotypical negatives that are often associated with the condition. And they advise the parents to abort. One mother, Angela, says that her doctors were brilliant, however there was “overwhelmingly negative” advice being thrown at her and her husband. She was even told to leave her daughter behind and just walk away.
Parents, lost momentarily in their fears and mourning for the child they had planned on, can be too emotionally distraught to make a clear decision about their child’s life, and most end up aborting. Many will carry that pain with them through the rest of their lives.
We have to ask ourselves, are the medical field and society doing parents a disservice when we talk about abortion in cases of fetal abnormalities? Are we denying parents and entire families the joys that come with parenting, the triumphs that come with struggles, and the pride that comes with watching your child succeed when no one thought they would? By denying people with Down syndrome their very lives, are we denying ourselves happiness? Are we denying the evolution of a compassionate society? Are we headed backwards in our quest for diversity, inclusion and acceptance?
If the only words a doctor can offer her patients who receive the news of a pre-natal Down syndrome diagnosis are, “I’m sorry” and “You can terminate”, than yes, the medical community is causing emotional and mental harm to parents. And society is backing it up by repeatedly arguing for the right to allow abortion especially in the cases of humans with disabilities. Call it bullying. Call it misguided intentions. But in the end, there’s a human being who has been denied his or her life and two parents who are suffering with the guilt. And this is only on track to continue until there is no longer a single person with Down syndrome on the planet. So much for inclusion and acceptance.