In the United States, an estimated 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome every year. Contrastingly, a mere one or two babies are born with this chromosomal disorder annually in Iceland. According to a recent CBS News report, almost 100 percent of pregnant women who received a positive prenatal screening test for Down syndrome since the early 2000s terminated their pregnancies.
Prenatal screening tests for expectant mothers are optional in Iceland. However, Iceland’s government requires that all pregnant women be informed about the availability of these exams, which determine the probability of a baby being born with Down syndrome. According to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland, roughly 80 to 85 percent of expectant mothers elect to take the tests.
Down syndrome is caused when abnormal cell division leads to either an extra partial or full copy of chromosome 21. This extra chromosome produces the distinct physical features and developmental delays associated with Down syndrome. Those with this chromosomal disorder often have a small head, a short neck, poor muscle tone, short hands and fingers, and short stature. Most kids diagnosed with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment.
When she was 40-years-old, Icelander Thordis Ingadottir became pregnant with her third child. After taking the prenatal screening test, she was informed her chances of delivering a baby with Down syndrome were extremely slim. Ingadottir’s test was inaccurate. In 2009, she delivered a baby girl, Agusta, who had Down syndrome. Ingadottir’s dream for Agusta, now seven-years-old, is “that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society.” Since her little girl’s birth, Ingadottir has become an activist for the rights of those born with Down syndrome.
Kari Stefansson is a geneticist who founded the company deCODE Genetics. Stefansson’s company has studied almost the entire population of Iceland’s genomes. Stefansson feels the nearly 100 percent termination rate of unborn babies thought to have Down syndrome “reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling.” He doesn’t believe anything is wrong with desiring to have healthy babies. However, Stefannson stated, “how far we should go in seeking those goals is a complicated decision,”
Helga Sol Olofsdottir counsels pregnant women who have received a positive prenatal screening test for a chromosomal abnormality. When women wrestle with feelings of guilt about getting an abortion, Olofsdottir tells them, “This is your life – you have the right to choose what your life will look like.” She doesn’t view the termination of Down syndrome pregnancies as murder. She sees the situation as ending a possible life that might have had a significant complication. She feels the abortion of Down syndrome babies prevents needless suffering for children and families.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin vehemently disagrees with Olofsdottir’s stance. In 2008, Palin gave birth to her youngest child, a son she named Trig – who was famously born with Down syndrome. In an interview with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum, Palin commented, “to try to snuff out a life in the name of building a perfect race…hearkens back to Nazi Germany.” Palin admitted she was initially fearful of Trig’s diagnoses of Down syndrome when he was born. However, she immediately turned to God and found purpose in her baby’s life. Texas Senator Ted Cruz reiterated Palin’s disdain about the CBS News report. He tweeted “Truly sad…Downs children should be cherished, not ended.”
Undeniably, people with Down syndrome can face medical complications such as heart defects, gastrointestinal defects, immune disorders, spinal problems, dementia, and leukemia. However, recent advances in medicine are allowing people with this chromosomal disorder to live longer, and healthier, lives than ever before. In 1910, the life expectancy of a child born with Down syndrome was only nine. By 1983, it had risen to 25. Today, up to 80 percent of people with Down syndrome live to see their 60thbirthdays. Many of those with this chromosomal disorder are living even longer.
Employed by businesses such as banks, hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, and restaurants, individuals living with Down syndrome are often active participants in educational, recreational, and social activities. Adored by their loved ones, they play a valuable role in our society. In her recent interview, Sarah Palin asked, “Life matters and love matters and who are we without love and acceptance?”
~ 1776 Christian