Did you know that increased prenatal testing has resulted in increased abortions of unborn babies with Down syndrome? Why is this happening, and what can we do to protect the unborn with Down syndrome?
Denmark: A Case Study
Denmark is a prime example of this phenomenon. They were one of the first countries to offer universal prenatal screening for Down syndrome, starting in 2004. Over 95% of parents who receive a diagnosis choose abortion, and only eighteen babies with Down syndrome were born in Denmark in 2019. (Proportionally, that’s over 5 times the rate of abortion of children with Down syndrome in the United States.)
It’s not that Denmark doesn’t provide adequate resources for individuals with Down syndrome; they are given health care, education, and other resources for their needs. And as far as disorders go, Down syndrome is compatible with living a long, happy life. Access to better health care has doubled the life expectancy for those with Down syndrome, and most individuals with Down syndrome are now able to learn how to read and write thanks to better educational resources.
What needs to change?
What needs to change is the way that prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is handled. Many doctors focus on the negatives — the things that people with Down syndrome might not be able to do. Parents often see all their dreams for their child replaced with possible heart disease, learning disabilities, the potential to be nonverbal — all in an instant as their doctor explains the possibilities.
As one sister of a teenager with Down syndrome put it,
“If you handed any expecting parent a whole list of everything their child could possibly encounter during their entire life span—illnesses and stuff like that—then anyone would be scared.”
The challenge then, is preparing parents without scaring them. Yes, parenting a child with Down syndrome is not without its challenges, but so is all parenting. It requires a selflessness that many of us, if we knew what was in store, would be hesitant to sign up for, yet at the same time, is incredibly rewarding.
Giving Parents Confidence
It is unfair to any parents to show them only the negatives they can expect; we must display the positives as well. When faced with that diagnosis, many parents never see that people with Down syndrome can go to college, get married, own their own businesses, complete an Ironman challenge, be successful artists, models, actors, athletes, and so much more.
Parents must also be confident that their children can get the quality healthcare that they deserve — that is why we are committed to opening a medical center dedicated to the needs of individuals with Down syndrome.
Most importantly, it is vital that parents see the value of their unborn child with Down syndrome; that the diagnosis isn’t a complete loss of the things that they wanted for their child, but that individuals with Down syndrome have the potential to live a beautiful life. Their lives are valuable, and worth protecting.