Paul Kengor: Dignity of children with Down syndrome
My family just visited Chocolate World at Hershey Park — the “sweetest place on earth.” We hit it every two or three years when traveling through. For those unfamiliar, Chocolate World is the heart of the Hershey experience. It’s a giant candyland, a chocolate paradise. The primary attraction is a tour where visitors ride in self-guided vehicles through a flashy exhibit learning about the history of Hershey’s chocolate.
At the end of the tour stands a Hershey’s employee who hands everyone a complimentary chocolate bar. For our kids, it’s the highlight.
The last several times we’ve done the tour, the boy handing out chocolate has been a kid with Down syndrome — a job he does without a hitch. It’s an added sweet thing that makes you smile. In fact, everyone smiles. I observe a mom who looks him in the eye and says very deliberately, “Thank you very much.” I generally say something like, “Thank you, sir!”
What also strikes me about the moment, however, is something much less happy. In fact, it’s quite sad, but I think it should be expressed, especially at this time of year, October, when America quietly marks Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
While probably 80-90% of the people passing through that line happily accept a chocolate bar from that child with Down syndrome (actually, the number is probably more like 100%), it’s tragic that upwards of 80-90% of women in America who receive a prenatal identification of a child with Down syndrome choose to abort. (The exact percentages vary and are debatable, but extremely high nonetheless.) In Denmark, the rate is 98%. And that’s not the highest. Recall recent reports from Iceland, where officials say they’ve almost completely “eliminated” Down syndrome.
How so? A magic pill? Surgery in the womb? Chromosomal engineering? No, they’ve done so by so thoroughly identifying Down syndrome in utero, and creating a culture where the vast majority of moms who receive a Down syndrome diagnosis choose to abort.
With a population of around 330,000, and 80-85% of pregnant women opting to take prenatal screening tests, only one or two children with Down syndrome are born annually in Iceland. According to officials, oftentimes those are cases where parents had received inaccurate prescreenings.
Some solution, eh?
And yet, countless children with Down syndrome, like that boy at Chocolate World, show us that children with Down syndrome are not a problem. They are children. They are people. They are lives. They have inherent worth and value. And as any parent of a child with Down syndrome will tell you, they are happy.
They should be welcomed.
Many Pennsylvania legislators agree. In May, the state House of Representatives passed House Bill 117-76, which would restrict abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Again, this is Down Syndrome Awareness Month (it’s also Respect Life Month). The lack of awareness of this month is itself an issue. The month isn’t marked by flags or signature symbols. But children with Down syndrome are themselves symbols. They are symbols of human dignity. We should take pride in those who are here, and not fear or halt those yet to be born.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.