Three days ago, the 21st of March, we celebrated the 11th anniversary of the World Down Syndrome Day. We heard about it through social media, newspapers, we maybe saw some people walking with two different socks but what is the real meaning of all of this? What is Down syndrome and why do we reserved one day especially for this syndrome?
Down syndrome was discovered by Jerôme Lejeune, a French Doctor in July 1985. Through his genetic research, he found that persons affected by Down syndrome had one more chromosome on the 21st pair. This finding was revolutionary in the genetic field because it was the first time that someone had established a link between an intellectual disability and its genetic cause. Socially speaking, it helped relieve the stigma around the disease which was thought to be associated with immoral behaviour of women. Despite the complexity of the syndrome, Dr Lejeune restlessly sought for treatment for his patients. Through conferences, the creation of associations and specialized homes, Professor Lejeune fought for the protection and the right to live of people with Down syndrome until the end of his life.
Unfortunately, during the sixties Dr Lejeune discovered that current scientists were more willing to use the screening techniques, not to find treatments but to do selective abortions. As the syndrome is easily identifiable after the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, it then became easier to process chromosomal eugenic selection through abortion. Presently in Europe 92% of the embryos diagnosed with the Down syndrome are aborted. In the United States the number is at 78%.This is a sad reality considering that 99% of persons diagnosed with Down Syndrome said they were happy to live.
These alarming figures show that we live in a culture of death. Indeed, our society only has tolerance and appreciation for people who may bring profit or public utility. Seemingly, society’s criteria for the right to live is limited to one’s productive capacity. In this kind of culture, there is no more space for the weak, no more places for the elderly or the disabled person. It is a paradoxical society given that it constantly calls for tolerance and respect but in the same time eradicates the weakest.
The World Down syndrome day is here to remind us that each person has an intrinsic value, that each person despite his/her mental disabilities is worth respect and tolerance. During that day we celebrate all the persons with Down syndrome, we advocate for their rights: rights to live, right to exists, rights to have a life. Every year more people with Down syndrome raise their voice to share their joy of living and existing, to express their gratitude toward the persons who love and accepted them in their family and life. As members of the universal family, it’s our duty to respect, protect, and defend the life of every person, beginning with the embryo all through one’s life until death.
Written by Cecile Carron, a WYA intern from Fully, Switzerland.