This past March 21 marked World Down Syndrome Day, an annual global event celebrating the contributions of a unique group of individuals who happened to arrive on earth with an extra chromosome. Unquestionably, people with Down syndrome make the world a better place. But if the current trend continues, fewer of us may have the opportunity to discover this for ourselves, because the Down syndrome population is being exterminated—an estimated 90% of babies expected to be born with Down syndrome are aborted.
So why is that a problem? Aren’t we really doing everyone a favor by sparing parents the heartache of producing a disabled child, as well as saving society the financial burden of supporting someone who may never even hold a job?
Ask Kurt and Margie Kondrich of Pittsburgh, whose daughter Chloe, 6, was born with Down syndrome. Chloe enjoys the life of a typical six-year-old—she attends first grade at her neighborhood school, argues with her brother, goes to birthday parties, and loves the beach. But when two of the children living next door to the Kondrichs were diagnosed with the same progressive, fatal disease, Chloe responded in a manner far beyond her years. “Chloe’s interactions with our five-year-old neighbor and his two-year-old brother are something that is not of this world,” her father says. “Her absolute unconditional love is a model for all of us…she rushes to this family who are in the darkest valley anyone could experience.”
In recent decades, life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has skyrocketed from nine years of age to roughly 60-65. But even as improved medical care is allowing people with Down syndrome to enjoy full, productive lives, 9 out of 10 Down syndrome pregnancies are terminated as a result of advanced prenatal testing methods.
Why? Because prospective parents often lack complete, accurate information about the quality of life now enjoyed by these individuals. Misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities remain deeply ingrained in our society, particular the notion that being born with a disability is a tragedy. Contrary to this widely-held belief, studies indicate that the vast majority of families living with a person who has Down syndrome view the experience as a decidedly positive aspect of their lives.
Although a great many physicians believe that terminating fetuses with Down syndrome will result in the best outcome for all concerned, their advice is often based on outdated information or is simply the result of minimal experience and familiarity with disabled children and adults. It is this lack of personal experience, coupled with the scientific community’s giddiness over its ability to identify so-called disabilities in the womb, that has led to this silent eugenics movement.
Each year, an increasing number of individuals with Down syndrome are entering the workforce, paying taxes, and volunteering in their communities. Many are finding success as dancers, poets, actors, and filmmakers. But the most powerful impact made by persons with Down syndrome on those around them is achieved through the simple act of being themselves.
As our culture becomes ever more self-absorbed and materialistic, I believe we need more people with Down syndrome, not fewer. If we wish to reverse what appears to be a downward spiral for humanity, then tolerance, good humor, kindness, and compassion—qualities found with remarkable consistency in people with Down syndrome—are the very attributes we must hope all of the new human beings entering our world will possess. And I challenge anyone who meets Chloe Kondrich to support any argument suggesting that the world would be a better place if she had never been born.