Yesterday was World Down Syndrome Day, a celebration of the lives of people who have Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a genetic condition called a trisomy, where someone is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21 (three instead of the normal two). You may not think that there is a point to celebrating the lives of people with a genetic condition - but you'd be wrong.
People with Down Syndrome - given half a chance - make a fantastic, positive and vital contribution to our world. They are as varied as people with only two chromosome 21s and they include workers, artists, actors, dancers and even politicians. Just one example is Guy, a great actor and a member of the fantastic Moveable Feast Theatre Company.
So, what's the problem?
The problem is that some of us don't seem to want people with Down Syndrome to exist. First we have organised a system of eugenics to eliminate people from the world; then, even when people are born with Down Syndrome, we often hide people away in special schools, day centres and care homes.
When my wife was pregnant with my son we attended all the necessary ante-natal classes. At one class the midwife asked us to come in for an interview. One of the questions she asked was would we want the test for Down Syndrome. We said "No".
She looked baffled (clearly people didn't say "No" very often). She then asked why we had said no. We explained that first the test was dangerous and more importantly - even if our child had Down Syndrome - we'd still love it and want it. The midwife than asked "But what should I put on the form... moral reasons?"
What other reasons are there?
The elective abortion rate for babies with Down Syndrome in the UK is 92%. That means we are choosing to eliminate natural human diversity from the world. We are trying to make the people of the world - more alike. The philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote (when discussing the Holocaust):
genocide... is an attack upon human diversity as such, that is, upon a characteristic of the 'human status' without which the very words 'mankind' or 'humanity' would be devoid of meaning.
But this is what we are doing. We are all involved in a slow and creeping form of genocide.
And why are we doing this?
The only explanation that seems to be offered is based on two fallacies. First that the life of someone with Down Syndrome is not worth living. Nonsense.
The second fallacy is that disability - needing a little more help than the average person - is some kind of big problem. The goal of human existence is not to be someone who doesn't need people; just as the goal of human existence is not to be someone other people don't need.
We are all different. Some people are a bit more different than others. Difference is good - get over it.
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