I believe Trisomy 21 is natural.
Unnaturally, fewer babies with the condition will be born, unless we learn from the lessons of the past.
Trisomy 21 is commonly called “Down syndrome” after Dr. John Langdon Down, who considered the condition a regression in the evolution of man. Nevermind that evidence of Trisomy 21 goes as far back as the Olmec Empire from 1,400 B.C.
It’s called “Trisomy 21” for the bonus copy of the 21st chromosome. This extra genetic material results in increased medical challenges, with intellectual disability being the most well-known. But, as those who are endowed with it will tell you, as will most of their family, friends, and educators, those with Down syndrome also typically have increased empathy and goodwill towards their fellow man. So much so, one commentator has wondered what it says for the rest of us that it takes a genetic defect to reveal our better natures?
On this program support was voiced for a theory that did and will result in fewer children with the condition. Just last month, while the world honored the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth–the father of natural selection–his grandson Charles Galton Darwin’s essay was rebroadcast in which he espoused his support for eugenics: the purposeful selection of who should be encouraged, and discouraged, from passing on their genes.
In fact, it is the extra genetic material which is why Down syndrome is able to be targeted: all a lab tester has to do is be able to count beyond the normal 46 chromosomes to 47 and they have likely identified a child with Down syndrome. As a result, laboratories are developing prenatal tests for ever earlier in a pregnancy to detect Down syndrome.
The most current studies show that 9 out of 10 mothers receiving a prenatal diagnosis opt to terminate. Two years ago, the professional organization of obstetricians recommended that all women, regardless of age, be offered prenatal testing for Down syndrome. In European countries having similar universal testing, the next generation born with Down syndrome has been reduced by more than half.
Hence, why I believe we are in a new era of eugenics, an idea rejected by civilization following the Holocaust. Only now it’s being carried out by individual decisions that nonetheless have a eugenic effect–the elimination of those considered weaker.
If only Darwin’s grandson had known his uncle, maybe his views would have been different. But, Charles Garing Darwin, who may have had Trisomy 21, did not survive a scarlet fever outbreak. And so, a month ago, this program shared a voice in support of eugenics. This month, on March 21, a date selected for its symbolism of 3/21 signifying Trisomy 21, I hope we turn back from the failed practices of discrimination and instead embrace that all life is precious, including Trisomy 21, which is natural. Then, my daughter Juliet might not grow up in a lonelier, more stigmatized future.