Sally Phillips’ A World Without Downs Syndrome? Some Thoughts From Our Editor
Sally Phillips’ documentary A World Without Downs Syndrome airs tonight at 9pm on BBC Two. This documentary is going to raise questions about abortion of disabled children. Specifically, of course, those with Downs Syndrome.
I recall a GCSE RE essay on abortion in which I wrote that I am particularly against the abortion of babies who may be born with disabilities, because we wouldn’t kill a child if we found out they were disabled after birth, so why would we abort them?
Of course, that was written by my teenage self. At the time, I had never considered the idea of killing a child after birth because of disability. Now I know of several cases of parents who have ended the lives of their young disabled children. Joanne Hill. Tania Clarence. Satpal Kaur-Singh. I must stress that none of their children had Downs, but they did all have other lifelong conditions.
However, the view I had on abortion and disability then, I still have today. I strongly believe that every life is equally valuable. Disability of an unborn baby is, in my eyes, the worst reason for abortion.
For me, abortion of a pregnancy because of disability raises questions about the value of disabled people’s lives, just as the idea of assisted dying does.
Abortion rates for people who know they will have a child with Downs are still very high- around 90%. Sally Phillips’ documentary will reportedly consider the possibility of Downs Syndrome becoming extinct- a very scary thought to me, not least because the word ‘extinct’ suggests people with Downs are being compared to animals.
That word says a lot about the value society places on the lives of people with Downs today. However, the debate is not just about Downs. Abortion of babies with any disability raises questions about the value society places on the lives of people like myself- people whose disabilities are discovered after birth. People whose disabilities are discovered after several months, sometimes several years, of life.
What about the value placed on the lives of people who become disabled later in life, in accidents or as a result of conditions like Multiple Sclerosis?
I hope the documentary will show parents what their disabled children can do with support. I hope the documentary will change one couple’s mind about abortion of a baby with any possible genetic condition.
And yet, there is another part of me that hopes those same parents will also be made to think seriously about whether they will be able to cope with disability. I believe that parents should love their children unconditionally. Disabled children, in particular, need unconditional love.
If parents feel that they will be able to love a child with any genetic disability unconditionally, then they should have testing for genetic conditions available so that they can be prepared.
If parents feel that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a disabled child, then maybe, just maybe, that potential child would be better off aborted than brought into a home where they wouldn’t be unconditionally loved, or worse, where they may be killed in early childhood.
We need more documentaries like this one. We need to be made to think about the value of disabled people’s lives. Maybe then we can lower the rates of abortion for Downs Syndrome and all genetic disabilities. Maybe not. But even if we don’t, I hope it won’t be a world without Downs Syndrome completely, but rather a world in which people with all disabilities are loved and valued, by their families and by society.