No More "Mental Retardation." So?

Imagine if, overnight, we stopped aborting babies with Down syndrome. Soon, preschools would have the typical number of children with the characteristic almond eyes my daughter has, and children wouldn't have to tug at their embarrassed parents' sleeves when they see her.  Programs customized to their learning style would flourish, as their growing numbers justified their creation.

When adults with Down syndrome took their place in the world, their accomplishments wouldn't surprise us and make the news, as did the young man with Down syndrome who scored a 51-yard touchdown for his high school football team and was featured on Fox News, or the young couple, Monica and David, a couple with Down syndrome whose marriage story was made into an award-winning documentary. Such events would become too commonplace to amaze us.

Research funding would increase and eventually the health challenges faced by people with Trisomy 21 would be overcome by science. Cures for other, more common diseases such as Alzheimer's or cancer may well be discovered within this promising research. Our society would find itself a more welcoming place for those who are genetically diverse, and then we could congratulate ourselves—not for using nicer words, but for overcoming our bigotries, as we did two decades ago, with the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

These are precisely the goals that my friends in the advocacy movement are encouraging through use of the media, and Down syndrome organizations; they already know that children with Down syndrome are not—and shouldn't be viewed as—the worst thing that can happen to a family.

As part of the movement to provide a welcoming culture for those like my Christina, I say to doctors, politicians, and society in general: You cannot insist that our children be addressed in respectful terms and expect fundamental changes in society while shrugging off a 90 percent abortion rate of these same children. The rejection of our children on the basis of their differences cannot be hidden behind shallow window-dressing. Advocate on behalf of the very lives and inherent dignity of Down syndrome children while they are in utero; encourage their right to be born and watch the pejoratives fade away—on their own and without much legislation needed—as the amazing personalities and unique sensibilities of our children enrich society.

1/20/2011 5:00:00 AM