A newspaper columnist has criticised those who believe babies with Down’s syndrome should be aborted, as his daughter, who has the condition, experiences “fundamental joy in just being alive”.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Dominic Lawson spoke of recently celebrating his daughter Domenica’s 19th birthday, despite being given “the bleakest forecasts” of what the consequences of Down’s syndrome might be.
Lawson highlights an article he wrote after she was born in 1995, as he was unsure how others would react – he told people to “congratulate” rather than “commiserate” his daughter’s arrival.
Alongside positive responses, there came some critcism, including an article from the late agony aunt Claire Rayner, who rebuked the Lawsons “for not having pre-natal tests for Down’s and declared ‘society’ would have to bear the burden of the ‘misery’ of Domenica’s life”.
He highlighted the case of a woman who said she was told she should have an abortion because her baby had Down’s syndrome.
In comments given to the BBC News website a few years ago, she said every doctor tried to persuade her that an abortion “was the best option”, and that one reason given was that “these babies put a strain on the NHS”.
Lawson noted that last year researchers announced that “significant progress” had been made in developing a non-invasive test for the condition in the womb, which was heralded by some as “potentially leading to the ‘eradication of Down’s syndrome'”.
“Forgive me for not joining in the cheering”, Lawson commented, “And besides, what is being eradicated? Not the condition, but only the people with it.”
“The condition will occur with exactly the same frequency as before: the only difference is that the alleged sufferers will never see the light of day.”
He noted a US study which showed that: “Nearly 99 per cent of people with Down’s syndrome indicated they were happy with their lives”.
And Lawson quoted Francesca Martinez, a comedian with cerebral palsy, who noted that had her condition been detected in the womb, her parents would probably have been advised to abort in order to “spare me” and them a life of suffering.
“The concern is touching, but I think I’d rather take a punt on living”, she wrote.
Lawson concluded: “A charming indicator of Domenica’s fundamental joy in just being alive was when on her previous birthday, while cutting the cake, she refused to make a wish because ‘I have everything I want, now.'”
He said that his daughter now has a boyfriend – another 19-year-old with Down’s syndrome who is playing the title role in a BBC radio drama.
He said the BBC’s casting decision is, “a shattering rebuke to those who think people with Down’s syndrome are not fit to live in the first place”.