Today is World Down Syndrome Day. Of all the random causes and titles that are designated a “World Day” this must be one of the most hopeful. Why? Because in spite of all the medical tests and laws designed to make it easy to detect and then abort babies discovered to have the syndrome, someone somewhere has come up with the idea that having Down’s can be a cause for celebration rather than disaster.
A friend, Leticia Velasquez, who has a daughter with this syndrome as I do, (and who has compiled an inspiring anthology of mothers’ responses to having a child with a disability in their family, A Special Mother is Born) sent me the link to a beautiful YouTube presentation, “Dear Future Mom”, designed to give the message that life can be joyful and worth living to a mother who has learnt she is expecting a child with Down syndrome. In it 15 young people from around the world who have the syndrome provide their own unique and persuasive message of reassurance and confidence.
I recommend everyone to watch it, whether you have a personal connection to the YouTube video’s message or not. This is the point of the film and of the Day chosen for this subject: that if you have a disability you are not less of a human being than others who are considered “normal”. You have the same wish to be loved and cared for, to be treated as an individual and to be encouraged to discover your own special talents, as everyone else. You are not a reason for gloom, or the medical and eugenicist sense of defeat that leads to abortion.
So often peoples’ fears, whether it is the prospect of a disabled baby or the dread of infirmity in old age or sickness, are aggravated by those around them, telling them they would better off dead or by banishing the problem from sight. This has to be seen as a counsel of despair. The YouTube film shows such negative propaganda for the lie that it is and the person who came up with the idea of World Down Syndrome Day should be applauded for such a positive and life-enhancing idea.
Mind you, in the film one of the children does say that life, for a mother of a child with a learning disability “will be difficult” – but then goes on to point out that being a mother at all can sometimes be a difficult job. All mothers know this, whether their child is disabled or not. I should add that it’s not true that people with Down syndrome are “always happy” – as I was told when our daughter was born. They have their sorrows, struggles and difficulties just like other people. When I told my daughter this morning that today was a special day for people like her she was distinctly unimpressed. She had gone to bed too late last night (my fault; we had gone out to the cinema as a treat, along with a fizzy drink and crisps); she had then had to get up too early from her point of view; and she was therefore somewhat grumpy – just as other people would be in similar circumstances.
An extra piece of good news for today, reported by Live Action News, is that a federal judge in North Dakota “has dismissed part of a lawsuit challenging a new North Dakota law that blocks abortions based on unwanted gender or a genetic defect such as Down syndrome.” It seems that the state’s sole abortion clinic, backed by the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights, filed the lawsuit last June. “Centre for Reproductive Rights” – what a sinister-sounding name. I hope “Reproductive Rights” isn’t given its own special “Day”. Given today’s celebration it would be a bit of an oxymoron.