I think we can all agree that the growing list of animals facing extinction is devastating to our world. Many animals are facing their end because of humans, because of poaching, pollution and the destruction of their homes. Many, many people are angry about this and rightly so. I am one of those people and it upsets me deeply that there are animals that could be wiped off this earth forever. My eldest son Skyler was born with a passion for animals, and his knowledge, love and interest in them impresses me daily. Living in Africa, it doesn’t bare thinking about that one day he will only get to see certain species in books.
What I find difficult to understand is how humans can be so angry at the thought of animals becoming extinct, yet the thought of eliminating Down syndrome from this world is a good thing. That people believe that the ‘extinction’ of people like my son is beneficial to the human race.
Let’s take elephants for example, one of the most beautiful animals on the planet. Poaching elephants for ivory is a catastrophic problem and unless things change it is imminent that they will someday cease to exist. It’s horrific. Although elephants and people with Down syndrome actually have something in common, they are both endangered. Is the world without elephants anymore of a tragedy than a world without Down syndrome? If your answer to this is yes then ask yourself why? Why is a person with Down syndrome of so little value to you? To me, the loss of both is tragic. The loss of any life due to humans is beyond sad.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the loss of all people with Down syndrome due to human choice is just heartbreaking to me. It means we are actively choosing to eradicate our own kind. And why? Because they have intellectual disabilities? Because they may or may not have illnesses associated with Down syndrome? Because they may or may not be dependent on their families for life? Because they may make life a bit tougher? Nobody has the guarantee that their lives will be free of these points, whether they have ds or not. Anybody can have an accident that makes them dependent on others for life and unable to care for themselves, and anyone can face serious or terminal illness. My point is that people with Down syndrome are humans to and have as much right to be here as anybody else.
There are people that will say “why wouldn’t we get rid of Down syndrome if we can?” People will compare it to things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart and liver disorders, Aids, epilepsy, etc. Illnesses and diseases that if could be wiped off this earth would be a blessing. I’ve even read a comment of somebody comparing the end of Down syndrome to the end of blindness! What people need to realize is that Down syndrome is not an illness, it is not a disease. It is a genetic condition, it is part of a person’s whole make up and it is not something to be cured. Eliminating Down syndrome is equal to eliminating people; it is not the same as eliminating a terminal or life destroying illness. Nobody has ever died from Down syndrome!
I understand that when people choose to start a family, they picture in their minds what that looks like. I know I did when I was pregnant. I pictured a beautiful newborn baby, free from illness or disability and I would have been terrified to learn otherwise. Well that’s what we all want right? That perfect baby. Though it’s not always the case, and we need to understand that just because something is not what we imagined, it doesn’t mean it’s any less beautiful. I’m in favor of people having the right to choose, and that nobody has the right to judge a person because they choose a different path to them. But I also believe that if people knew the reality of Down syndrome and what it could bring to their lives, then it wouldn’t be so frightening. I would never have believed that my life could be so amazing because Down syndrome was a part of it, and that’s because it’s never portrayed that way. It’s always believed to be such a bad thing, but in our family that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When did we become so afraid of differences? Why did we become so afraid of differences? And when did we decide that if somebody doesn’t fit into what we deem as ‘normal’, then it would be better for society if they were just never born in the first place. Who decides what perfect really is? Because my River is pretty damn perfect to me, Down syndrome included.
I’m currently raising an ‘endangered species’. I know how that sounds but it is completely true. Before anyone jumps in an states that he is a human and humans are not endangered, then understand that I know this. I know River is a human, but do you? Because believe me when I tell you that there are people who can’t see past his diagnosis, to many he is just Down syndrome and not a person in his own right. I am raising a son with Down syndrome, and there are many people who are trying to eliminate his kind, and even more people who believe this is right. My son is not a person to them; he is nothing but Down syndrome, nothing but his diagnosis, nothing but an extra chromosome. There are countries already close to achieving their goal of eradicating Down syndrome and some already have.
I believe that anybody who thinks people with Down syndrome should not exist are people who have no experience of it. They are not lucky enough to have been blessed with a person with ds in their lives. I have to think this way, because the thought of someone actually knowing my son and still believing he has no value is too much for me to handle. If you don’t know a person with ds then how can you have an opinion on what it really means? And I mean really know a person on a relationship level, not just so and so who lives up the road. Throughout the years it has been portrayed as such a bad thing, a terrible thing to happen to a person. It is seen as an illness, a disease, something to be suffered. Although it is none of these things, it’s hard to change these perceptions when it is engraved in us that being different is wrong. That if you’re not what society has decided is normal then you cannot have a fulfilling life. That society has decided you are not important.
I can tell you this now, my River is important and he has just as much right to live on this earth as you or me. Nobody has the right to tell me that he is a burden, or that my life would be better if he didn’t have Down syndrome. Nobody gets to tell me what he contributes to my life except me. And nobody gets to decide what he contributes to our family other than my family. And nobody gets to tell me that another species life is more important than his! River will contribute to society, he will leave his mark and the world will be a better place because he was born. So yes I will feel angry and sad for the animals fighting for survival, and I have nothing but respect for the people fighting on their behalf. I however will be fighting on behalf of my son and the people who are ‘his kind’. Because when it comes down to it, his ‘kind’ of people are our ‘kind’ of people. We are all just people.
We need to start celebrating differences, instead of fearing them. We need to start excepting people for who they are, and realizing that just because a person’s journey is different to our own, it is no less worthy. If you believe people with Down syndrome should not exist because they are a burden then you are wrong. If you think people with Down syndrome shouldn’t exist because they are different and not ‘perfect’ then you are wrong. If you think people with Down syndrome shouldn’t exist because they cost the NHS too much money, then shame on you. The extinction of any animal is a tragedy, but the extinction of Down syndrome at the hands of people, science, fear and ignorance is equally so.