Today, the international community celebrates World Down Syndrome Day to honor individuals with Down syndrome and raise awareness about the genetic condition. The global campaign always falls on the 21st day of the third month to represent the third copy of the 21st chromosome, the genetic characteristic possessed by all individuals with Down syndrome.
This year, the theme is “’My Friends, My Community’ – The benefits of inclusive environments for today’s children and tomorrow’s adults.” Highlighting the many ways in which people with Down syndrome are included in society is a noble goal – one which should naturally encompass the inclusion of unborn babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome and who have all too often become vulnerable to abortion.
In a beautiful video produced by Down Pride of the Netherlands, a young man with Down syndrome named Peter describes his joyful life surrounded by family and friends, but also poignantly expresses his feelings about prenatal discrimination of unborn babies with Down syndrome.
“[I] am very proud of myself that I have Down syndrome and I am able to tell you how I feel about it. My parents, brother, sisters and colleague are also proud of me. I really don’t agree with the fact that people just abort children with Down [syndrome] because everybody has the right to live. So do children with Down syndrome.
…If I think long about this issue, I feel quite lonely and very sad because it could mean that we have no friends. Luckily, I have friends and a lot of people who care about me and whom I care about. I really wouldn’t want to miss my life… [T]o be honest, when I was writing this speech, I cried, and I almost never cry because I am always happy.”
According to a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, selective abortion of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome has significantly reduced the overall Down syndrome community in the U.S. by 30 percent.
Some states are now taking action to protect these unborn children. Just this month, Indiana passed a groundbreaking bill to prohibit abortion solely for discriminatory reasons such as disability, race, sex, and national origin. The bill is now headed to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is expected to sign it.
Katie Shaw, a young woman with Down syndrome who volunteers with Indiana Right to Life, testified in support of the bill in January of this year. Katie says her mother discovered at five months of pregnancy that Katie had Down syndrome. “My parents, with the help of doctors, focused on what would help me have a wonderful life. I’m grateful my parents gave me a chance to live a wonderful life and they did not abort me,” testified Shaw.
Thanks to medical advancements over the past six decades – such as the introduction of antibiotics in the 1950s to fight respiratory infections, and more recently, surgical treatments for infants with congenital heart defects – the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically from only 12 years old in 1949 to over 60 years old today.
In fact, the world’s oldest man with Down syndrome, Kenny Cridge of Britain, recently celebrated his 76th birthday. When Kenny was born in 1939, doctors mistakenly thought he was a stillborn infant and momentarily left him alone to care for his twin sister. As soon as Kenny began showing signs of life, however, they immediately resuscitated him. His home manager Ann Nicholson says, “Kenny is an absolute joy to be with every day. He’s smiling most of the day; before he goes to bed and when he wakes up he’s smiling. He is a true gentleman and a gentle man.”
As we continue to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, let us remember that the very people we treasure and advocate for today are here because they were given a chance at life – the most basic “benefit of an inclusive environment.”
Genevieve Plaster is a research assistant for the Charlotte Lozier Institute.