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Down Syndrome Awareness Month: A Mother’s Perspective Pt: III

Down Syndrome Awareness Month: A Mother’s Perspective Pt: III

Down children are not a ‘Problem’ 

By Chaya Ben-Baruch 

How is the world going to accept my child in the face of an increasingly common perception that terminating a pregnancy for a Down Syndrome fetus is ?

Something is deeply, irrevocably broken in a society where we consciously choose to nip off what may strike outsiders as the “weakest link” – because only by strengthening and fostering that link can we grow and more fully and compassionately express our humanity.

Some have charged that some countries – Iceland, for one – are “eradicating” Down Syndrome by strong-arming expectant mothers into getting abortions – let’s just say it aloud, said American columnist, George F. Will – that they are committing no less than ”genocide.”

According to the UN International Criminal Court, “the crime of genocide is characterized by the specific intent to destroy in whole or part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group by killing its members or by other means.” Downs Syndrome is found in every nation, ethnicity, racial, or religious group. Will maintains that “Genocide means a deliberate systemic attempt to erase a certain category of people that the eradicator sees as less than human, problematic, or not worthy of living.”

Iceland aggressively encourages all women to undergo prenatal screening. Will, in a 2018 column in The Washington Post, charged that the genetic counseling was very heavy-handed:

“Mothers are reminded ‘This is your life, you can choose how your life will look like. We do not look at this as murder,” Will wrote, quoting Icelandic counseling officials.

A shocking 2017 CBS news report concurs. They will even stamp your dead “fetuses tiny feet and print it on a remembrance card.”

I watched that report when it was first aired, and – for me – five years later, it still gives me chills. 

About 750 British Down syndrome babies are born each year, but 90 percent of women who learn that their child will have — actually, that their child does have — Down syndrome will opt for abortion. In Denmark, the elimination rate is “98 percent,” according to Will.

Sarah Zang’s article in the Atlantic 2020 adds insight into Denmark’s attitude toward Downs and the paradox of genetic testing:

“Suddenly, a new power was thrust into the hands of ordinary people—the power to decide what kind of life is worth bringing into the world.”

While I believe all mothers have the right to choose whether to give birth or abort and the terms “quality of life” and “happiness” are bantered about – few counselors talk about real children with Downs and what that’s really like as a parent.

Denmark, however, is an exception: their system pairs pregnant mothers who may be carrying a baby with Downs with a mother who has raised a child with Downs Syndrome; the pregnant mother has the option of choosing whether to make contact with her mothering mentor.

Other nations, on the other hand, have ruled to limit public exposure to Downs: 

France, in 2014, refused to air an international Down Syndrome Day video entitled “Dear Future Mom,” which showed 15 affected children and young adults around the world imploring mom-to-be not to abort and to embrace them as loved family members. 

“…the country’s Conseil d’État, or Council of State, objected to putting the advertisement on air, citing the potential upset it could cause mothers who had undergone abortions and the possibility the ad could be construed as a pro-life public service announcement,” according to a report in the Miami Herald.

Sometimes you’re faced with a difficult situation, and you don’t think you can handle it, but, basically, it forces you to rise to the occasion and grow. We used to institutionalize those experiencing Down Syndrome; now, they are effective, vibrant members of societies around the world.

No one can look at a child – whatever their circumstances – and know with any certainty what they will become 20 years later.

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