March 21, 2012 marked the 7th anniversary of World Down Syndrome Day, which this year for the first time was celebrated at the United Nations (UN). Individuals with Down syndrome (DS) and their families gathered to celebrate the 7 million people living worldwide with Down syndrome. This year’s theme “Building Our Future” highlighted the accomplishments and abilities of people with Down syndrome when they are treated with dignity and given the chance to be included in society. Individuals with DS testified to their own achievements in education, employment and integrating into society. All too often, these brave individuals are stigmatized and excluded based on pre-existing misconceptions. But once those barriers are broken down, they are accepted and appreciated for their unique talents and loving personalities. It could be said “To know them is to love them” but in the case of individuals with DS and those closest to them know is it more appropriate to say, “To know them is to be loved by them”.
One of the purposes of World Down Syndrome Day is so the world can meet and hear from DS individuals and their families. A speaker at the event noted, “That’s why it’s important to be everywhere,” so communities can see and value the contributions of individuals with DS. The event and a focus on real DS girls, boys, men and women and their lives and families is critically necessary as the number of abortions for unborn babies identified with Trisomy 21 continues to rise and parents feel pressured to abort their child out of fear for the future.
Last fall, researchers at Children’s Hospital in Boston conducted a study into the quality of life of families and individuals affected by Down syndrome. They found the real life experience with Down syndrome is actually quite different than what is often preconceived—it is significantly positive. In one study, 79 percent of respondents said their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down syndrome. The study found the responses from parents, siblings and individuals with Down syndrome themselves to be overwhelmingly positive. “These results will be quite shocking to many Americans, who might have some misperceptions about what it means to have Down syndrome. Family members have spoken and have said life is positive with Down syndrome,” said Dr. Brian Skotko, the lead author of the study.
Misconceptions and stigma of the disability have played largely into a declining population of people with Down syndrome. Following advances in technology and prenatal testing, the rate of abortion for unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the US is currently reported to be as much as 92 percent. This astounding number is expected to rise even higher as new noninvasive tests become available to detect developmental disabilities in babies at even earlier stages of pregnancy.
In 1958 French geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune discovered the cause of Down syndrome and began working to find a cure, fearing that these precious children would be aborted once their condition was know. His work also included ways to improve the health and lives of individuals with Down syndrome. Today the Jerome Lejeune Foundation has come to the U.S to raise funds for additional research into the condition that impacts over 400,000 individuals in the US. Dr. Lejeune recognized the inherent dignity of each and every life right from the start and noted that the very first cell, the fertilized egg cell, is “the most specialized cell under the sun”.
The dangers of abortions for disabilities highlights the need for more positive awareness of the value and dignity of each person with Down syndrome, as was celebrated this World Down Syndrome Day. All children are deserving of life, including those created with a little something special.