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Deeply contradictory attitudes towards people with Down syndrome 

by | Mar 29, 2024

By Michael Cook

March 21st was World Down Syndrome day. The event is supposed to foster awareness of Trisomy 21, as the condition is also called.

Modern societies have a complicated relationship to Down syndrome. On the one hand, poll after poll shows that 90% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome for their unborn child abort him or her. On the other, those Down syndrome children who do survive are well cared for and are feted as champions if they have conventionally successful careers.

The fact is that most Down syndrome people have happy and fulfilled lives. Some have become successful professionals. An Irish actor with Down syndrome, James Martin, starred in a film, An Irish Goodbye, which won an Oscar in 2023.

Recently a Spanish woman with Down syndrome, Mar Galcerán, became the first to be elected to a parliament in Spain. “It’s unprecedented,” the 45-year-old told the Guardian. “Society is starting to see that people with Down’s syndrome have a lot to contribute. But it’s a very long road.” Ms Galcerán has been active in politics since she was 18.

Other people with Down syndrome in European countries have won office in competitive election. In 2020, Éléonore Laloux was elected as a city council member in the northern town of Arras; in 2022 I Fintan Bray was hailed for making history after he was elected to Fianna Fail’s National Executive in 2022. The first Spaniard with Down syndrome to be elected was Ángela Bachiller, who became a city councillor in Valladolid in 2013.

At the Impact Ethics blog editor Chris Kaposy writes that: “Galcerán is part of a renaissance of people with the condition who have gained political and cultural influence. Further examples include Otto Baxter, from the UK, who has been described as a ‘visionary’ filmmakerMiguel Tomasín from Argentina is a prolific professional musician with the band Reynols. Grace Reber is an American artist with a business selling her work online. There are many more.”

However, there’s a long way to go before Down syndrome people’s human rights are fully recognised. In Britain, abortions are generally illegal after 24 weeks. But unborn children with Down syndrome and other conditions may be aborted up until birth.

British MP Sir Liam Fox is helping in a campaign by the lobby group Don’t Screen Us Out to change this. He has introduced amendments to legislation to bring the abortion time limit for babies with Down’s syndrome in line with the time limit for babies that do not have disabilities.

Editor’s note. This appeared at BioEdge and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Down Syndrome