Celebration of Down Syndrome Day is celebration of life

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday we celebrated World Down Syndrome Day, but what we were really celebrating is life, in all its myriad and wonderful incarnations.

The United Nations has declared World Down Syndrome Day on March 21 as a global awareness day designed to shed light on the lives, contributions and voices of those living with Down Syndrome. The date, 3-21, is important, as Down syndrome is caused by the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome, either in part or in full. The message is even more important.

As a celebration, the day is marked by wearing mismatched socks and sharing stories of the vital role people with Down syndrome play in our lives and our communities. But as an issue, celebrating life enriched by Down syndrome runs much deeper.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In August 2017, CBS News sparked an outcry over a story about Iceland’s efforts to “virtually eliminate Down syndrome” through abortion. The story was designed to showcase the effect of prenatal screenings, which are widely in use throughout Europe, and the long-ranging impact those tests can have in a society where women have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy based on the test results. Yet, it was also a chilling insight into what has become a norm in our culture today as doctors talked of “ending a possible life that may have had a huge complication … preventing suffering for the child and for the family.”

As anyone with a child, sibling or friend with Down syndrome will readily testify, those lives are anything but “complications.”

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition, occurring in roughly one of every 700 live births in the United States – about 6,000 babies each year. It crosses all races, nationalities, religions, socioeconomic statuses or environmental conditions. Although each person with Down syndrome is unique, many share some physical traits and most face mild to severe cognitive delays.

Yet, all these individuals share life, joy, and a full range of emotions with a deep capacity to love.

Due to medical advances, individuals with Down syndrome are living longer, more enriching lives. In 1910, the average life expectancy of a child with Down syndrome was nine years. Now, with corrective heart surgeries and advancements in clinical treatments, 80 percent of adults with Down syndrome reach age 60.

In those years, they go to school; they work; they attend churches and community activities; they love; and they contribute to the fabric of our shared humanity in uncountable and untold ways.

In short, they live. Certainly, they face challenges, as we all do. They face complications, as we all do. And they face suffering, as we all do at some point in our lives.

World Down Syndrome Day seeks to remind us that life is precious and worthy of celebration, in all its shapes and forms.

We think that’s a lesson we should take to heart every day.