By Eileen Haupt
Editor’s note. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a time, according to The Jerome Lejeune Foundation, when “we applaud caregivers, families, and medical professionals — but most of all, we applaud all the wonderful people with Down syndrome.” All this month we’ve been running new and previously posted stories.
Earlier this month, as in most years during Down Syndrome Awareness Month, our family joined other families in our area who have a child with Down syndrome, for the annual local Buddy Walk. Collectively, our children at the gathering ranged from one-month-old to adulthood.
Though the children and adults with Down syndrome differ in abilities and personalities, and though our families are from all different backgrounds, there is an understanding among us. We get each other. There is a beautiful acceptance and appreciation for the family members with Down syndrome. Our children are valued.
There is a special quality that individuals with Down syndrome possess that is difficult to explain, unless you have had the privilege of knowing someone with that extra 21st chromosome. I think the late Dr. Jerome Lejeune (considered Venerable by the Catholic Church) captures that quality perfectly: “Their ligaments, their muscles, are so supple that it adds a tender languor to their way of being. And this sweetness extends to their character…”
That sweetness of character, I think, is what we pick up on. The more people who get to know a person with Down syndrome, the more those qualities can be appreciated, and the more acceptance there is. And the more people there are with Down syndrome, then the more exposure people will have to them.
But what happens when their numbers disappear from our communities as a result of the routine practice of prenatal testing and abortion? A 2012 study estimated that about 74 percent of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome, are aborted in the U.S. (For various reasons, not all babies with Down syndrome are diagnosed prenatally, so, that high percentage does not reflect the overall reduction in Down syndrome births.)
Overall reduction in Down syndrome births is estimated each year in an annual study, People living with Down syndrome in the USA: Births and Population. The 2022 update (for year 2016) estimates the overall reduction in Down syndrome births, due to abortion, was about 36 percent. So, each year, we are reducing Down syndrome births by over a third!
The previous study estimated 33 percent, so there has been an uptick in the percentage of babies with Down syndrome aborted. Future years will show whether the implementation of Non-Invasive Prenatal Screening (NIPS), introduced in 2011, is having an effect on Down syndrome births.
The findings for Europe are even more devastating. The 2022 update estimates that the effect of abortion on overall newborn births is 56 percent. In other words, Europe is reducing Down syndrome births each year by over a half!
This huge reduction in Down syndrome births is unbearable to think about. Thousands of innocent babies’ lives extinguished each year on both continents. Significantly fewer families blessed with a child with Down syndrome. Significantly fewer children with Down syndrome to get to know and appreciate. Less understanding for those who struggle for acceptance.
On a positive note, life expectancy for individuals with Down syndrome has dramatically improved over the decades. The U.S. study shows that life expectancy was, “53 years (mean) and 58 years (median)” in the 2010s.
I was talking to my daughter Sadie recently, about how, typically, babies get 23 chromosomes from the mom and 23 from the dad. We’ve talked about this before, so she’s familiar with the concept. I told her, in your case, of course, you have an extra chromosome that comes from.” Before I could complete my sentence, and without skipping a beat, she says, “It comes from God!”
Wow! Now that is a young lady who knows her worth!
It is so incredibly sad that so many expecting parents don’t recognize the value of their own child. If only they knew what my daughter knows.