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Ups and Downs

A parent’s worst nightmare, or utmost blessing? There was a time when the birth of a child with Down syndrome was viewed as a misfortune of the greatest magnitude. Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic (but not hereditary) condition in which the person has an extra copy of the 21st chromosome. Children with Down syndrome have low muscle tone and developmental delays, and may also have various other health problems such as heart defects and hearing loss. It was once believed that these children had severely limited potential and parents were discouraged from even bringing their child home. Today, however, due to advances in healthcare and shifts in societal thinking, children with Down syndrome, for the most part, are raised in loving homes and grow up to achieve a wide range of skills and accomplishments.

Until recently, trisomy 21 could be diagnosed prenatally only through invasive tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which themselves carried a risk of causing miscarriage. Therefore, only a small percentage of women chose to be tested. In the past two years, however, new tests have been introduced that can diagnose Down syndrome with a high degree of accuracy in the early weeks of pregnancy, with just a simple blood test of the mother.

With the new blood test came a new concern: Will Down syndrome soon disappear from the population? Studies have shown that, when presented with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, up to 60-80% of women choose to terminate the pregnancy. Eventually, as fewer and fewer are born with this condition, those with Down syndrome may find themselves isolated, and could even lose the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years.

It is ironic that parents would make the choice to abort right at a time in history when the outlook for children with Down syndrome has never been better. The counter-argument is, is it not better to eradicate conditions and disabilities that will limit a child’s potential? What is the loss to society if there is never another child with Down syndrome born?

Parents who have been blessed with a child with Down syndrome will tell you that their lives have been immeasurably enriched by their child’s birth. Whatever defects their body may have, their soul is perfect and unblemished, and they relate to others with a purity and honesty that is to be envied and admired. If we cannot accept the birth of such a child, the weakness is in us, and not in the child.

We look forward to a time when all of society will learn to cherish these special souls and learn the lessons they have to teach us. With the coming of Moshiach, their bodies will be healed of any form of disability. All of our hearts and minds will expand to be able to see and appreciate the beauty of their souls and how much they enrich our world.


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