In the news today is a report about how there has been a 70% increase in pregnancies carrying babies with Down's Syndrome (or Down Syndrome - without the 's' - as it's called elsewhere in the world), due to more women having children later in life. But because of the increase in screening, and subsequent abortions, the number of children born with DS has in fact fallen.
This is because improved antenatal screening means more Down's pregnancies are being spotted and more abortions are taking place. Without the improved screening, the number of babies born with Down's would have risen by 48%, according to the study. (BBC News, Tuesday, 27 October 2009)It goes on to say that the number of couples chosing to abort pregnancies these has remained consistant at 92%
I might not be alone in finding this statistic horrifying, grotesque and heartbreaking, but clearly as part of a couple who fall into the remaining 8%, I am in a serious minority.
Now I am, in fact, Pro-Choice. This does not mean I feel abortion should be a causal, unthoughtout affair, only that I believe it to be wrong that a woman should be compelled by church or state for her body to go through a such a body and life changing process regardless of her own feelings on the matter.
However, a real choice requires access to up to date, unbiased and complete information on both sides, and this is seriously lacking in the medical world. There is an image of people with Down's Syndrome as "other" as "less than" as "not fully human" - someone who looks a bit funny, is mentally and physically useless, dribbles into their chest and probably has a dodgy pudding-basin haircut.
This image was created largely by the government and medical authorities whipping away babies with DS from their mothers and putting them into institutions where they were never given the proper love or stimulation to grow and develop as full individuals. And were given haircuts of convenience.
This image is hopelessly outdated, and yet remains entrenched for many people. And as more pregnancies carrying children with DS are terminated, fewer will be seen and the sense of "other" will only increase.
Rule number one of any conflict - dehumanise the enemy as it makes it easier to inflict harm or kill them.
And so long as people with DS are considered as “other” it will be easier to terminate or prevent their existence in the world.
Of course as a father of a beautiful daughter who happens to have DS, I am continually amazed at what all the fuss is about. Yes, sometimes there are some difficulties. But then show me any child where there are no problems and everything is perfect all the time.
I’ve always maintained that 98% of bringing up a child with DS is the same as bringing up any child. Any difficulties and differences can be worked with and overcome. They are certainly not reasons sufficient in my mind to destroy the life potential before birth.
And if you want to see conclusive proof of how children with DS are anything but other, then do visit the photography blog of Conny Wenk, who takes the most beautiful photos of families, including many children who have DS.
Over on my sidebar, under the "Dash of something extra" category, you will find links to several sites where parents are blogging about their children who have DS. Mostly what you find is it's just parents blogging about their children and the DS is quite a minor issue.
And if you would like to involve yourself and see first hand that raising or helping a child with DS is remarkably similar to raising one without, do visit Tara Marie's blog about her daughter, Emma Sage, who is looking to get postcards from every US State and is happy to accept ones from countries around the world too. My one from Scotland is already in the post.
Finally, about 2 ½ years ago I wrote a very short story, which I intended to publish on this blog, but my wife thought it was a bit too in-your-face. However, in light of the feelings stirred up by the news today, I’ve decided to dig it out and put it up – see below