More British children are being born with Down syndrome, leading some to speculate that Britain has become more tolerant of the condition. After the introduction of a prenatal test for Down's in 1989, its incidence in Britain dropped from 714 births a year to 594. But that number is up again, to 749, its highest level ever. Some of this is due to moms getting older. But some of it may reflect improved public perception of the condition, or the fact that, at least according to columnist Dominic Lawson, "younger generations of parents are much less keen on the idea of abortion for eugenic reasons."In a survey by the Down Syndrome Association, 35% of parents who chose to have babies with Down's thought that the world had become a better place for children like theirs. Anecdotal evidence from parents seems to bear this out. Carol Boys, CEO of the Down's Syndrome Association, says,
When I and others had our babies it was a very different world – those with Down's syndrome were treated very differently. Now there is much greater inclusion and acceptance, with mainstream education having a huge role. We think this plays a part in the decisions parents make – there's even been a baby with Down's syndrome on EastEnders [a popular British soap].
And there's now a baby with the syndrome in the Details "Power 40" — Trig Palin, who, along with his brothers stands for "two (or three, depending on whom you believe) generations of the American male." (When he grows up, though, Trig may be less than happy with Details's description of him as "pro-life billboard and helpless justification for knowing absolutely nothing about foreign policy.") However, some imply that it's not just easier to have a child with Down's these days — it's harder not to have one. Dominic Lawson says,
While people might understand a parent saying they are too young to have a child it's becoming much less acceptable for mothers who might be having a baby later in life to say 'I want a child but not this one'.
It's great that public perception and support of people with Down syndrome is improving, and that more people understand that, as parent Frances Dine says, the syndrome "doesn't need to hold you back." Families who choose to raise kids with Down's deserve all the help they need so that their kids can lead full and happy lives. But do those who don't make this choice really deserve censure? It's easier to slap something with the eugenics label, as Lawson does, than to consider all the individual ramifications of raising a special needs child. Not every woman, not every family, has the financial or personal means to care for a kid with Down's. Lawson's words contain a glimmer of prejudice — women who have babies "later in life" still face stigma. But their choices are just as valid as anyone's, and a prenatal diagnosis of Down's isn't some kind of moral test to be passed or failed. It's information that women should use to determine what to do next — information that is hopefully more positive than it once was. Down's Syndrome: Parents Think Again [Independent] Are We Really More Accepting Of Down's Syndrome? [Guardian] Many Keeping Babies With Down's [BBC] 'I Can't Imagine Her Any Other Way' [BBC] Parents Who Give Up Their Down's Syndrome Children [Times Online] The Power 40 [Details]