Upon delivering my first child 11 years ago, I heard the words “Down syndrome,” and my world collapsed. Visions of children sitting passively in a corner watching life go by, not participating, kept me awake those first nights as a mom.
It didn’t take me long, though, to figure out that my ideas were based on negative, outdated information that had nothing to do with the reality of life with Down syndrome today. My daughter April is an active, outgoing girl. She’s my nature child, wildly passionate about anything with four legs. Although April uses few words, she’s a master communicator. Through her, I’ve learned that Down syndrome is not the scary, terrible condition it’s made out to be.
But while governments (rightly) ban gender selection, selective abortion continues to be encouraged for children with Down syndrome. In the United States and abroad, screenings are a routine part of health-care programs, and the result is the near-elimination of these children.
When pregnant with my daughter Hazel, tests showed she, too, would be born with Down syndrome. I was shocked when an acquaintance asked me why I did not choose abortion — as if she were a mistake that could be easily erased. Although my personal prejudices have radically changed since the birth of my first daughter with Down syndrome, I realized that negative attitudes about the condition remain deeply rooted. To many, my children and their cohort are examples of avoidable human suffering, as well as a financial burden. Knowing that individuals look at my daughters this way hurts, but seeing governments and medical professionals worldwide reinforce these prejudices by promoting selection is horrendous.
Denmark was the first European country to introduce routine screening for Down syndrome in 2006 as a public health-care program. France, Switzerland and other European countries soon followed. The unspoken but obvious message is that Down syndrome is something so unworthy that we would not want to wish it for our children or society. With the level of screening among pregnant Danish women as high as 90 percent, the Copenhagen Post reported in 2011 that Denmark “could be a country without a single citizen with Down syndrome in the not too distant future.” (Read more from “Down Syndrome Screening Isn’t About Public Health, It’s About Eliminating a Group of People” HERE)