Down’s syndrome babies bloom as Britons take on stigma

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Increasing numbers of British mothers are choosing to give birth to Down’s syndrome babies rather than have an abortion after more than 20 years of efforts to shake off the social stigma surrounding them.

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The reason the mothers give is simple: ‘No one’s perfect.’

Figures published Monday show that despite universal pre-natal tests in Britain, there has been a rise in the number of Down’s syndrome births in this decade.

After the introduction of screening for Down’s syndrome for pregnant women in 1989, the number of babies born with the condition in Britain dipped from 717 a year to 594 at the start of this decade.

But since 2000, the birth rate increased to 749 in 2006, the last year for which figures are available, according to a survey carried out by the Down’s Syndrome Association in conjunction with the BBC.

Figures from the National Down’s Syndrome Cytogenetic Register suggest Down’s births have risen by approximately 15 percent as a proportion of all live births in 2000.

The study, which surveyed 1,000 parents to find out why they had gone ahead with a pregnancy despite a positive test result, came up with some surprising results.

A fifth said they had known somebody with Down’s, a third cited religious or anti-abortion beliefs and 30 percent felt life had improved for people with Down’s.

Most respondents said they felt supported by their family and friends and considered that the future was far better today for those with Down’s syndrome.

In particular, parents said their decision was influenced by ‘integrated education’ – where Down’s children are educated in the same classrooms as other children – and a greater social acceptance of “what it means to be different.”

Inclusive education has been on the agenda of successive British governments since 1981 when the then government of Margaret Thatcher accepted a report written by the philosopher Mary Warnock and followed it up by publishing a code of practice.

The survey quoted one parent as saying: “I don’t subscribe to the notion of the ‘perfect human being’ and found the idea of selecting one child in preference to another abhorrent.”

Down’s Syndrome Association chief executive Carol Boys said the survey shows how much changes in society were influencing people.

“When I and others had our babies it was a very different world – those with Down’s syndrome were treated very differently. Now there is much greater inclusion and acceptance, with mainstream education having a huge role,” she said.