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The Last Children of Down Syndrome -- Would you abort a baby if it had Down syndrome?
Down syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21, is a genetic condition that affects individuals worldwide. It is characterized by an extra copy of chromosome 21, leading to distinct physical and cognitive characteristics. According to United Nations, Down syndrome is a relatively common chromosomal disorder, occurring in approximately 1 in 1000 births. Diagnosing Down syndrome during pregnancy raises complex questions and decisions, particularly regarding the option of termination of pregnancy. Concerning the questions “Should people have an abortion after the baby is diagnosed with Down syndrome” and “Would you give birth to Down syndrome kids” more than five thousand people gave their answers on Quora and Zhihu. Deep analysis shows that Chinese people focus more on how kids with Down syndrome would affect the lives of others, how they would affect society, and how society treats them, which indicates that most people in China are into eugenics. On the other hand, people who live in Western countries, mainly developed counties, concern more about the life experience of Down syndrome kids and human rights. The essay will analyze several factors parents concern about when making the crucial decision after the baby is diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
1. Concerns about the burden that the family must undertake
In most answers, people’s concern regarding whether give birth to a kid with special needs or a disabled kid lies in the quality of the future life the baby will have and the extra burden the family will have. In Western countries, people feel more confident about it. With sufficient government support, especially from governments of developed countries like the USA, parents dare to give their kids a chance. For instance, parents can contact a specialized rehabilitation institute after a kid with Down Syndrome is born. According to the answers of those parents who sent their kids to such institutes, the fees are all covered by the government, which means the quality of life for Down Syndrome kids is somewhat guaranteed, and the family burden is not that terrifying.
On the other hand, the worries of most young parents in China when they have to make the abortion decision are the insufficient official support provided by society. For instance, the specialized Down Syndrome rehabilitation institutes are limited in Chengdu, with only three available to the public. Thus, access for parents to get their possible Down Syndrome kid professional rehabilitation is scarce. On top of that, for those families who reach the specialized rehabilitation institute, the government of Sichuan would only cover the fee from the birth of those kids to their 15-year-old age. In contrast, most Down Syndrome patients need not merely 15 years of rehabilitation. The total costs would be a huge number for many families in China.
2. Concern about the education kids with special needs would receive
Parents are always worried about the education their kids will receive, including parents of kids with special conditions. However, this is not the major concern of parents in Western developed countries as, according to the answers from parents of kids with special needs in most Western developed countries, the education of Down Syndrome kids and other kids with special needs is guaranteed. According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, every child attending school in America, with or without a disability and regardless of the degree of disability, is required by the government to have a free and appropriate public education. Most children with special needs (e.g., Down's, autism, hyperactivity, speech delays, slow learners, etc.) have the right to be educated in a public school alongside normal children after age five. Based on an interview with a teacher, Cai, who works in the special department of a primary school in America, she says that each child in the particular department has a different learning plan, so the teacher's teaching is also very targeted with the implementation of hierarchical teaching.
However, in China, most parents argue that they face situations where their kids get rejected from regular schools or accepted at first but suggested to leave after a few weeks just because of their kids' special needs. The reason behind that is that most Chinese schools have no special education department.
3. Social acceptance toward disabled people and social inclusivity
Both parents of Down Syndrome kids from China and Western countries argue that their biggest wish is to hope their kids can be accepted by society when they grow up. However, few Chinese and Western people feel positive about it. Still, social discrimination is somewhat less intense in developed countries than in China because people in developed countries receive more propaganda or knowledge about Down Syndrome and other disabilities. Being a teacher in America, who has one Down syndrome kid in her class, Cai points out that by studying and working with that kid, other kids learn more about this disease and show their understanding and respect for the kid who has some difference from others.
However, in China, the knowledge of Down syndrome, a non-contagious chromosomal disease, is not widely promoted. Thus, the social awareness of Down syndrome is relatively low compared to Western developed countries. Besides, due to lack of contact, many Chinese still hold their stereotype of Down syndrome. In some answers from Zhihu, people still describe Down syndrome patients as rude monsters who could do irrational things, which is utterly incorrect.
Furthermore, employment largely defines one’s living. In America, about 57% of Down syndrome patients get employed. Nonetheless, in China, only a few companies dedicated to charity would use disabled people, including Down syndrome patients, since there is no authority enforcement. The low employment rate of Down syndrome patients leaves parents in China more hesitant to give birth to such kids.
Moreover, people in China feel less positive toward the situations and predicaments that disabled people have to encounter, which can be shown in answers and questions like “Why there aren’t many disabled people willing to walk outside in China” The reason behind this is the insufficient infrastructure system.
4. Pressure from the surroundings
When making the abortion decision, people still get influenced by their surroundings. For instance, in 2018, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill banning abortions in cases with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. This bill would trigger deeper thinking, like people should be able to terminate pregnancies for any reason, and what about if the cause is eye color or sex, or gender? On the contrary, due to the vast population base in China, which might partly be why eugenics has been passed widely. Doctors would suggest the termination of pregnancy after prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Amniocentesis is a free prenatal test in most hospitals in China. People from different cultural backgrounds hold distinct views toward eugenics and infanticide. Some people argue that eugenics is nothing but immoral, while others allege that eugenics could push the development of humans. Some claim fetus is not an infant biologically, while others hold the opposite.
Besides, the opinions from the society's public's judgment toward couples’ decisions also play a role. Both people from China and Western countries encounter such pressure. According to one interview published in the Atlantic, the couple were afraid their friends and family would now think they didn’t love their daughter—so heavy are the moral judgments accompanying wanting or not wanting to bring a child with a disability into the world. On the contrary, some also leave their judgment on forums like Quora and Zhihu, judging those parents who give birth to children with special conditions after being aware of their needs, claiming that this is so-called “immoral.” Despite all, the couples themselves hold the right to make their final decisions.
Conclusion and future perspective
People’s opinions toward the termination of pregnancy after the baby is diagnosed with Down syndrome vary greatly. This is not a true or false question. People who give birth to kids with Down syndrome and other special conditions are brave to give their kids a try despite all the challenges they have to overcome. They treasure the time they spend with their kids and the happiness the kids bring to the whole family and the world. On the contrary, it is not reasonable to criticize the couples who decide to terminate the pregnancy given their concerns, as analyzed above.
This exploration highlights the importance of recognizing the diversity of opinions within each region and the need for nuanced discussions on this complex issue. By understanding the factors that shape these perspectives, we can better appreciate the decisions individuals and families face when confronted with a Down syndrome diagnosis.
Fostering greater awareness and education surrounding Down syndrome will be essential in both China and Western countries. Encouraging open dialogue and reducing the stigma associated with disabilities can lead to more informed decisions and inclusive attitudes toward individuals with Down syndrome.
Moreover, enhancing healthcare infrastructure and support systems for families with children with Down syndrome is crucial in promoting their well-being and quality of life. Governments, organizations, and communities should collaborate to ensure adequate resources, services, and educational opportunities for these individuals to reach their full potential.
Furthermore, ongoing research in the medical and scientific fields can lead to advancements in understanding Down syndrome, potential treatments, and interventions to enhance the lives of those affected.
Ultimately, a compassionate and empathetic society, coupled with continued efforts to build an inclusive environment, will help create a world where every individual, regardless of their abilities, is valued and supported in their pursuit of a fulfilling life. Through shared understanding and collective action, we can work towards a future that embraces diversity and empowers individuals with Down syndrome to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society