The world wants to eradicate Down syndrome. That’s no exaggeration. It’s completely evidence-based, and I’ll write it again: the world wants to eradicate Down syndrome. In Iceland, 100% of women who receive a positive diagnosis now terminate. In the UK, that figure is 90% and similar in America and Australia.
It’s a confusing message when you consider how acceptance, tolerance, inclusivity and anti-discrimination are prevalent values in our culture.
As we wave the flag for World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), perhaps now is a good time to make note of the amazingly unique contributions that people with Down syndrome make on our society.
Let’s celebrate people like Mikayla Holmgren who, in December 2017, became the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant (she won both the Spirit Award and Director’s Award). And there’s Tim Harris, who became the first restaurant owner with Down syndrome in the US, made famous for the free hugs on offer (he has since closed up shop to get married and focus on family). There are actors including Tommy Jessop (Down and Out), Lauren Potter (Glee) and Brad Silverman (I Am Sam) – among many others. Madeline Stuart is another person who is not allowing Down syndrome to stand in the way of her goals. She is a supermodel, dancer, actress, advocate and all-round role model.
So here they are, four good reasons why the world shouldn’t eradicate Down syndrome.
1. Smiles light up lives
You may think it trite to say that we need people with Down syndrome because they have lovely smiles, but just think for a moment about the significance of a smile. Perhaps it’s poor form to generalise, but many people with Down syndrome are easy with their smiles, giving them out generously and lighting up corners of the world with them. Smiles release endorphins which are responsible for making us feel happy – and they also help lower stress levels. Perhaps this is why research has revealed that most families that have a child with Down syndrome are stable, successful and happy and that siblings often have greater compassion and empathy. Further, some studies have shown that families of children with Down syndrome have lower rates of divorce than the national average (Down Syndrome Australia).
2. Enthusiasm in bucketloads!
People with Down syndrome have a zest for life. They embrace it with arms and legs and anything else that will wrap around the intrinsic joy of living. Just look at the Special Olympics where people from across the globe overcome labels to achieve – and their mums and dads will tell you they got there through sheer determination and bucketloads of enthusiasm. Life is never ho-hum when a person with Down syndrome is in our midst.
3. We learn what unconditional love is
What it is to give it, and receive it. As parents, we sometimes bring a child into the world with agendas (often unarticulated, but there all the same) for how he or she will behave, what they will become and the reflection that will have on you. When that’s all thrown to the wind we learn quickly to appreciate who they are without any strings attached. And that in turn helps us to view the members of our broader community with the same shades.
4. Because it’s a measure of what we value
On a very, very serious note, a society without Down syndrome says some scary things about our culture. It speaks of fear, prejudice and the pursuit of perfection.
University of Sydney bioethicist Dr Tereza Hendl is concerned that there is a stigma associated with intellectual impairment as well as a lack of social support for families with children with Down syndrome, that is driving the normalised Down syndrome abortion trend.
“There are serious ethical concerns. A woman who decides to have a child with Down syndrome can be stigmatised and labeled as a ‘burden on society’. In the future, families with children with Down syndrome could find it hard to find social support.
“The concept of a ‘perfect child’ is troubling. Who gets to define perfection? How far do we go? There is an important difference between prevention of life-threatening conditions and selection for a ‘perfect child’.”
There are so many more perks of Down syndrome.
I’ve been scrolling through chat forums on the topic, and what a wonderful place they are to visit. Mums and dads sharing why there’s nothing to fear about parenting a child with Down syndrome. Women pregnant with DS babies so grateful for the positivity, the injection of encouragement. They love that their babies are babies for that bit longer. The developmental hurdles are sweeter in their accomplishment, their cuddles longer, their worlds tilted so that the petty ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality doesn’t get a look-in. Sure, it’s hard. The challenges seem insurmountable. But the line that I’ve seen repeated over and over and over is this: “I wouldn’t change a thing”.
And I believe them.
Down syndrome fast facts
- Down syndrome is a genetic condition – it is not an illness or disease. It occurs at conception as a result of an extra chromosome.
- One in 1,100 Australian babies has Down syndrome. This is lower than the worldwide rate of 1 in 700 because of high abortion rates.
- Prenatal testing is offered routinely to most women in Australia, and it is often assumed you will agree to testing. However, it is your choice whether or not to have prenatal testing.
- Some studies have shown that families of children with Down syndrome have lower rates of divorce than the national average.
- Research shows that most families with a child with Down syndrome are stable, successful and happy, and that siblings often have greater compassion and empathy.
Facts source: Down Syndrome Australia.
Main photo source: ‘Here I Am’ Photographic Exhibition by Dan Murphy at Dublin Castle, 2015.