My daughter Penny is in the fifth grade. She just went away for the weekend with her best friend and her family for the first time. She wears glasses. She feels nervous around dogs. She loves reading and spelling and recently asked her Prayer Buddy at church to pray for her about learning how to add fractions. She is responsible, smart, talented, and loving. She also has Down syndrome.
Today is World Down Syndrome Day, a day to celebrate the approximately six million children and adults around the globe who have Down syndrome (also known as trisomy 21). Any website or book devoted to this topic lists a set of physical features, medical concerns, and potential disabilities common among people with Down syndrome, but it is hard for me to think in these generalities anymore. Rather, I am drawn to portraits of people with Down syndrome that demonstrate their distinctive traits. I love reading stories about their different interests, abilities, and friendships. And yet most people in our world still see Down syndrome as something both monolithic and negative—a condition to be eradicated rather than a group of individuals to be welcomed and loved.
Historically, people with Down syndrome were pushed to the margins of our society through institutionalization. In more recent years, with the advent of prenatal screening tests that indicate the likelihood of trisomy 21 in fetuses, more and more women have chosen to pursue those tests and, in many cases, to terminate pregnancies accordingly. Although the number is tricky to calculate, in the United States, the rate of babies aborted with Down syndrome is around 50 percent and is likely to rise with the increased use of these prenatal tests.
A similar story can be told in developing nations around the globe. According to recent reports in Iceland, not one child was born with Down syndrome between 2008 and 2012. In Denmark, with universal access to prenatal screening, one source estimates that 98 percent of the babies conceived with Down syndrome are aborted. The statements by public officials and medical providers throughout Europe overwhelmingly argue that people with Down syndrome cost too much and pose a burden to society.
This argument relies on utilitarian logic: If babies with Down syndrome are not going to be economically productive, it follows that they’re not worth bringing into the world. Moreover, if babies with Down syndrome are going to suffer, they should be aborted. As Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community, writes, “Our desire to alleviate perceived suffering in the name of compassion easily leads to the destruction of people whom God has created and loves beyond all things.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Amy Julia Becker is the author of Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most (Zondervan) and A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations and a Little Girl Named Penny (Bethany House). She lives with her husband, Peter, and three children in western Connecticut.