DOWN SYNDROME

Unfortunately, one extra chromosome is all it takes to convince some people that you do not have the right to be born – and if you are allowed to come into this world you are considered to be a lesser person by many. Having 47 chromosomes instead of 46 simply means you have Down syndrome. This is a condition that affects an individual physically as well as intellectually, however, it in no way detracts from their humanity or the fact that they are entitled to the same rights as someone who has 46 chromosomes and gives birth. Individuals with Down syndrome deserve the same respect and dignity that you are entitled to because ALL human beings are equal members of the human family no matter what their genetic makeup.

The heartbreaking reality is that at least 90% of all pregnancies in which Down syndrome is diagnosed are terminated. The baby doesn’t die from the condition – it dies from someone else’s decision not to deal with the condition. When you see a new baby girl with Down syndrome you are looking at a human being that has already defied the odds. But that is just the beginning. Throughout her life she will defy the odds at every turn. Professionals will set arbitrary limits on what they think she will achieve and she will surpass them. Some in society will shun her or pity her but she will rise above their ignorance. Some will be verbally abusive and cruel but she will return their small mindedness with the purity of love that she shares with every person she meets. She will make the people in her life feel blessed for having known her and she will make the world a far kinder and gentler place – all because she was not one of the 90%.

In the United States, there are approximately 350,000 people living with this condition. These individuals go to school, they hold down jobs, some live independently and they all have significant abilities and talents to offer society –  but we have to be willing to give them the chance. Is it too much to ask that a baby with a chromosomal disorder simply be allowed to be born so that it has the same chance at life as every other baby? Is that really expecting too much of us as human beings? The next time you meet a person with Down syndrome please realize you are interacting with one of the fortunate 10%, but also understand that you are fortunate for having the opportunity to get to know them, accept them and to establish a relationship built on mutual respect. Our days are enriched by their presence.

I have many good friends who happen to have Down syndrome, and they bring amazing joy into my life. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I did not get to spend time with them and do things with them. Their friendship is important. I look at them and I see human beings who are just like me. In fact I have gained a great deal of knowledge from them. I have learned how important it is to be accepted for who you really are. I have learned that it is perfectly all right not to be the biggest or the fastest – the bravest or the coolest. I have learned the value of being tolerant and forgiving. I have learned that words can hurt and that no one should be labeled by others. I have learned that laughter and joy belongs to all of us and not just to those who have money, prestige or power. I have learned that we are all basically the same in the important areas of life – and most of all, I have learned what it simply means to be human.

The number of chromosomes an individual has should in no way determine their opportunities in life. It cannot be allowed to limit their choices or influence their ability to dream. Each one of us deserves the right to be the person we really are. A medical classification should not detract from the fact that we are each entitled to live a full and rewarding life based on respect for our humanity. Every person on earth needs love and has love to give so who are we to say that a person is different just because of a physical aberration from what is considered “normal”? One extra chromosome – so what? An individual living with Down syndrome simply wants to be valued as a person – the same as you or I.

When I think of the countless lives represented by the 90% who are not even given a chance to survive, it makes me wonder what beautiful experiences we are all missing. How much more love and tolerance would there be in the world if those lives were here with us, adding joy and laughter to our world. Life would surely be richer and fuller if they were present and we would certainly be better people for having the privilege of being their friends and loved ones. It is humanity’s tragic loss when the innocent and defenseless are judged to be “inferior” and are not allowed to walk among us as equals. Down syndrome is a scientific fact of life. It is a condition that a person lives with just like any other medical issue, therefore, when it is discovered during pregnancy it should not become a death sentence.

 

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