Scandinavia’s War on Babies with Down Syndrome

In Iceland, every single baby diagnosed with Down Syndrome is aborted.

Mary Kate, a 25-year-old from New York, is just like many millennials. She loves listening to music, spends much of her free time watching YouTube videos and pursues her passion of acting by getting together with a theatre group once every week.

She has an incredible memory; she was learning Shakespeare plays by heart in fifth grade and can recall the birthdays of nearly everyone she knows. She lives with her parents and feels loved and valued by her family and friends.

Mary Kate also has Down Syndrome.

Her mother Meg, who asked that I leave out their family’s last name, wouldn’t change a thing about the events that brought Mary Kate into her family’s life.

“I think she’s made all of us better people, my sons included,” she said. “We’ve learned to be more compassionate and understanding of people in general.”

Mary Kate has had a hard time finding full-time employment, but she’s very active nonetheless.

“She always wants to be off going somewhere or doing something,” Meg said. “She does a theatre group on Saturdays, she’s been to sleepaway camp twice, she’s going again next week…. She enjoys the time being independent and being away from home.”

It’s amazing how the lives of people with DS have improved in the past few decades, and we’re lucky that much of our society is willing to accept these individuals for who they are. Many around the world, however, aren’t so fortunate. Even in countries that we consider allies.

In fact, several of the most developed countries in the world are openly leading a campaign to eliminate people with DS.

Denmark, not exactly a backwards place run by religious fanatics or mini-tyrants, brags that they abort 98% of babies with DS. That number is 90% in the United Kingdom and 96% in France. In Iceland, every single baby diagnosed with DS is aborted. Around Europe, and even in the U.S., the statistics paint just as stark an image.

These anti-DS campaigns have been so effective that the Copenhagen Post declared that DS is, “heading for extinction in Denmark.”

If genocide is the systematic extermination of people because of their genetic and/or physical characteristics, there’s no other way to frame these atrocities being committed by these countries.

And this systematic elimination of people predicted to have disabilities is proceeding with almost nothing but plaudits from so-called pediatricians. As a child with DS costs “1 to 2 million Euros,” Belgian pediatrician Patrick Willems says that, “preventing the birth of 50 babies with Down Syndrome will offset the costs of fully implementing the NIPT [a noninvasive, highly accurate prenatal test for DS] into Dutch public healthcare.” Dutch pediatrician Ko van Wowue treats ending the lives of pre-born DS babies like an investor: “If you put 200% effort in [a child with DS],” he says, “you get 10% in return.”

I mean, when you say it that way… nope. That actually makes it more despicable.

Doctors and nurses often pressure parents towards aborting children with DS, pushing the option of “termination” over and over, while sometimes not even mentioning the resources like DS support groups. These doctors paint in the darkest terms how everything from possible medical complications to special education to social ostracism will ruin the child’s quality of life.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • 96% of people with DS are happy with how they look
  • 99% are happy with their lives
  • 88% of siblings of people with DS say their sibling has made them a better person
  • Just 4% of parents say they regretted having their DS children

Today the life expectancy for a person born with DS is approximately 60 years, and those 60 years can be joyful, useful and fulfilling. While the Department of Education does not keep statistics specific to children with DS, the Department has seen a sharp uptick in the number of students with disabilities – including DS – graduating high school. That number is now above 60% nationwide and even higher in some states. Montana boasts over an 80% graduation rate for disabled students.

People with DS can play sports, create art, work, date and even marry. A quick Google search on DS will fill your browser with heartwarming stories of people with the condition going to college, finding careers, and generally living happy lives.

That is what countries like Denmark are bringing to the brink of extinction, not some money-sucking, hope-draining disease.

This genocide – and make no mistake that’s exactly what it is – is a human rights violation on par with the worst that ISIS, North Korea or Iran have to offer, and it needs to be addressed on a global scale.

If the Trump administration, in its downtrodden state, is looking for an easy P.R. win (or maybe to do some real good in the world), it should take a principled stand on the world stage in defense of the lives of those with DS.

Tyler Olson is a student at the Pennsylvania State University studying broadcast journalism and political science. He has written for The Daily Collegian.

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