Discussions concerning human rights should never be rooted in how ‘perfect’ someone is. Rather they should be based on the fact that everyone has intrinsic value and the right to live ought to be paramount. Every human being has purpose. While we may not know what that purpose is at a certain point in time, all should have the opportunity to experience the magic we know as ‘life’.
The ongoing efforts of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society encouraging us to “See the ability” is a testament to that intrinsic value. These efforts are to be applauded, but there is much more that can be done to advance the rights of those with unique abilities; including changes in the law.
World Down Syndrome Day is an international event with a goal to promote the equal status human beings with an extra chromosome. In Canada it is clear that huge strides have been made in breaking down barriers and pricking the national consciousness with effective marketing campaigns. But is it really making a difference?
Although Canadian statistics on pregnancy termination are vague at best, international studies consistently report that as many as 90% of pre-born children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. Obviously, some don’t see the ability.
This chilling slide towards eugenics – specifically, eliminating persons with certain unique characteristics – must be confronted. Canadian persons with Down syndrome have human rights that ought to begin before birth. The juxtaposition is abhorrent. At the same time as we are promoting the dignity and value of all human beings, no matter how perfect we are, we are allowing a legal and deliberate division of the population between one class of “valuable” citizens who have the ability to contribute to society, and another class who are less valuable and are perceived to be a cost to society.
The irony of a culture that promotes seeing the ability of those with Down syndrome while at the same time having the ability to terminate the majority of those with Down syndrome cannot be ignored. In our desire to create a perfect society we are supporting a legal construct that allows for the selective termination of those who we deem not perfect enough. It’s time we see the ability for the entire spectrum of human life.
Canada can correct this injustice by passing legislation banning prenatal discrimination. Such a law would provide much needed legal protection for many in the Down syndrome community. If Canada is going to give human rights more than lip service, we can tolerate modern-day eugenics no longer.
Mike Schouten is the director for WeNeedaLAW.ca, a public awareness campaign building support for the protection of pre-born human rights.