Down Syndrome Population Faces “Perfect Storm”

By Eileen Haupt

March 21st, is celebrated as World Down Syndrome Day.  The 3/21 date signifies the 3 copies (rather than the normal 2) of chromosome 21.  It is a day in Down syndrome advocacy circles to raise awareness about this genetic condition that is very much misunderstood.  It is also a day to reflect on the progress that has been made in the “quality of life” for individuals who have this condition.

Advocating for individuals with Down syndrome might soon require many advocates to challenge their values.  To have them as part of our families, schools, and communities, requires that they first be born.  And therein lies the rub—or deadly paradox.

There has never been a better time—in the history of mankind— for babies with Down syndrome to be born. There is better recognition of their potential, greater knowledge about this genetic condition, supportive laws, inclusion in schools, exciting new research that may lead to treatments for cognitive challenges, and in general, more understanding.  In particular, advanced medical technology has significantly improved the quality and longevity of their lives.

But it seems advanced medical technology is a double-edged sword. For the same technology has also enabled the development of more-accurate methods of prenatal testing to diagnose babies while still in the womb, thereby making them targets for abortion.  Dr. Brian Skotko of Children’s Hospital in Boston estimates that a shocking  92 percent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted.

As tragic as this statistic is, a “perfect storm” is looming on the horizon that will threaten the very existence of individuals with Down syndrome in the future.  A new maternal blood test that can definitively diagnose Down syndrome in the first trimester is expected to be available as early as next year. 

It has callously been dubbed the “Holy Grail” of prenatal tests.  One researcher quoted in a Canadian newspaper predicts more couples will choose testing and therefore, “slowly eradicate the disease.”

First of all, Down syndrome is not a “disease.”  Furthermore, it is not Down syndrome that will be eradicated, like polio.  It is the babies who have Down syndrome who will be eradicated.

To appreciate the huge significance of this new test, it must be understood that many babies with Down syndrome are alive today because they were shielded from abortion; a diagnosis was not made before birth. Many women decline the invasive, diagnostic tests, such as amniocentesis, because of the risk of miscarriage and because they are not administered until the second trimester.

However, this new blood test will change all that.  Mothers will no longer need to risk miscarriage and will receive a diagnosis early in pregnancy when perhaps a bond with the baby has not yet been formed.  Additionally, the test will be offered to all pregnant mothers, not just older mothers. The results are that many babies who would have previously gone undetected, will be identified.

The effect of the perfect storm is this:  An early, accurate, non-invasive, prenatal test will lead to more women undergoing prenatal testing, which will lead to more babies with Down syndrome being diagnosed in utero, which will unquestionably lead to many more abortions. 

Let’s be honest.  This purpose of this test for Down syndrome is not to treat the children.  This “Holy Grail” has one purpose only: To eradicate the children. 

Having said all this, the problem is not really prenatal testing; it is the legality of abortion.  Which is why, in order to fully advocate for this population, many need to question their own values.  Accepting the “right to choose” also means accepting eugenic abortion, which is wiping out the very people they claim they want to help.

Those with Down syndrome typically possess unconditional love, innocence, affection, a sense of humor, determination, generosity, enthusiasm for the big and little things in life, and a special presence that can only be understood and appreciated by knowing them.  This is why even the most advanced prenatal test is deficient.  It cannot detect these qualities, nor can it convey to the pregnant mother the unspeakable joy her special child will bring her.

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