Culture

This World Down Syndrome Day, Remember the Value of Every Life

Judith, a girl with Down syndrome, plays with her sister at a playground in Berlin, Germany, in 2019. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)
Too many around the world reject the humanity of those with Down syndrome.

As we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, it’s critical that we recognize the equal dignity and worth of our brothers and sisters with Down syndrome. Sadly, here in the United States and in many places throughout the world, the failure to acknowledge this begins before these individuals are even born. It’s beyond time that our laws reflect the truth that a person’s entrance into the world shouldn’t hinge on whether he or she has an extra chromosome.

Yet that is what expectant parents of unborn babies with Down syndrome often hear from doctors who wrongly presume those with the condition are of less value. Parents often feel pressured to abort babies with Down syndrome. Often this pressure comes from doctors, but also from family and friends. None of us, doctors included, should ever assume some people’s lives are any less worthwhile.

The truth is that people with Down syndrome love life, are intensely happy, and their joy is a gift to our world.

Dr. Brian Skotko, a board-certified geneticist and director of the Down-syndrome program at Massachusetts General Hospital, in 2011 published findings that the overwhelming majority of those with Down syndrome are more than satisfied with their life and happy with themselves.

What’s more, respondents overwhelmingly expressed love for their parents and siblings, and want expectant parents processing the news of their preborn infant’s Down syndrome diagnosis to take heart and to think of their growing child in a positive light.

“In our qualitative analysis, people with Down syndrome encouraged parents to love their babies with Down syndrome, mentioning that their own lives were good. They further encouraged healthcare professionals to value [unborn babies with Down syndrome],” reads the report.

Bias in the medical community against people with Down syndrome extends to the greater culture as well. Many countries have utterly failed to appreciate this whole class of people. Iceland, for example, has virtually eliminated its Down syndrome population through selective abortions. Similarly, Denmark has a 98 percent termination rate for babies diagnosed with Down syndrome, and the United Kingdom is right behind at 90 percent. It has been said that you can judge the advancement of a culture or nation by how it treats its most vulnerable. These trends are not just sad; they are repulsive.

The reasons for these astronomically high rates of selective abortion are complicated, but often the decision comes down to concerns about the quality of life of the child and the burden placed on families. Many prominent voices argue for abortion, including columnists and editorial boards in major newspapers and the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins. Our cultural elites seem to believe those with Down syndrome are destined to live miserable lives burdening those around them.

Women who are pregnant with a little one who has tested positive for Down syndrome in utero (an imperfect test) often feel that they have no other options besides abortion. There is far too little discussion about the joys of raising a child with Down syndrome. Many women never see research such as Dr. Skotko’s or other studies such as one by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center researchers which discovered parents of children with Down syndrome are less likely to get divorced.

Just because someone with Down syndrome is different from society’s expectations doesn’t mean their life is any less valuable. People find meaning in many different ways, and there is no one path to living a meaningful or productive life.

As one living with Down syndrome, Regan Reinertson, a 15-year-old from Bolingbrook, Ill., exemplifies this positive approach to life. She stole the show at the 2019 March for Life and was featured in its theme video. She has done print ads, social-media ads, and commercials working with Mattel (American Girl), Vision Works, Oberweis Ice Cream, All State, and JP Morgan Chase. She has also competed in the Special Olympics, winning a gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics and also competing in equestrian, and participated in a theater group for kids with special needs, playing parts in Beauty and the Beast and Wizard of Oz. Regan loves school, she’s very social, and she is loved by everyone. She loves to swim and go on vacations to the beach. Self-proclaimed medical experts might not see it, but she is a precious gift bringing joy to everyone around her. She is one of the most uplifting people I have ever met, and she shows that Down syndrome doesn’t stand in the way of a happy life. She and many who share her diagnosis have brought joy and meaning to people everywhere, and we must continue guarding those with Down syndrome from extermination.

Some lawmakers in statehouses across the country have introduced legislation that, if enacted, would prohibit discriminatory abortions prompted by a pre-natal Down syndrome diagnosis. That would be a step in the right direction and show the path forward for defending those with Down syndrome. It would be a tragedy for the world to lose any more of these exceptional souls.

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