Anyone who lived during a century when silence allowed some of society’s most vulnerable members (Jews during the Holocaust, gays during the initial AIDS crisis) to suffer unnecessary death must be vigilant in speaking out when any group is threatened. Today, those with Down syndrome (DS) form the most vulnerable group targeted for what is essentially genocide.
A new, more effective blood test known as “cell-free DNA” to screen for DS was announced last week. With the cheapest tests costing $500 and the most expensive ones four times that, the potential market is in the billions of dollars. Better tests will produce more knowledge about the DS status of potential babies, jeopardizing their futures.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder in which babies of all nationalities and both genders are born with an extra chromosome. People with the syndrome typically have characteristic facial features as well as physical and intellectual disabilities. Adults with DS often have approximately half the IQ of typical adults, and their mental age can approximate that of a third grader.
In recent years, fewer and fewer DS babies have been born, as increasingly accurate tests have informed mothers about their future child’s disability. Many of those women have chosen to terminate their pregnancies. Though studies differ, it’s clear that these days at least four out of five pregnant women with a DS diagnosis have abortions.
Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life – or, like most Americans, you’re somewhere in between – the mass termination of DS pregnancies is cause for alarm. Advocates of reproductive rights constantly talk about freedom for women who choose to terminate “unwanted pregnancies.” But overwhelmingly DS abortions involve wanted pregnancies. What’s unwanted is a special-needs child.
People with DS can love. They can learn. They can by funny – sometimes very funny. Most of them can work, sometimes prominently – like the actors with DS on the TV shows “Life Goes On” and “Glee.” Thousands are accomplished, medal-winning athletes through the Special Olympics.
And increasingly, their mothers are deciding to kill them.
Reasonable people can disagree as to the moment when an embryo or a fetus becomes a person. But approving of the widespread abortion of DS fetuses translates into supporting a world that is less rich, as these special people will no longer be able to contribute to it.
The new test, like every other screen ever developed for DS, produces some false positives. That means some of the women aborting their babies to avoid having to raise a special-needs child are terminating a fetus with a normal set of chromosomes.
Ask folks with a DS person in their lives whether they wish their brother or co-worker or daughter had never been born. All of them will say no. Raising a child with DS certainly involves specific challenges (and joys), but raising any child is complicated. When people choose to get pregnant, they are committing to love and nurture the baby they make. Demanding a do-over because you need a perfect child is wrong, and rarely works anyway. Quite the oppose; mothers who don’t abort DS babies may find their perfect child, one who has an extra chromosome.