A few weeks ago during a break, I saw a blurb on the news about a new blood test being developed. Can’t tell you what it was called. What I do remember is that it’s made to test for Down Syndrome. The reporter had all these great things to say about the test’s accuracy, about how it has the potential to reduce the number of amnio procedures (which carry some risk to the baby), and then, tacked on as an afterthought, mentioned that some folks are concerned that this test may lead to an increased number of abortions.

Out of curiosity, I’ve done some looking around. If you pull up the Wikipedia page, it does mention that many Down syndrome diagnosed pregnancies are aborted. The percentages quoted were over 90%. I didn’t check around enough to see where they got those numbers, because I got distracted by an old NY Times article that talks about rising parental concern in 2007. It also helpfully provided a link to a Pub Med abstract, Termination rates after prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, spina bifida, anencephaly, and Turner and Klinefelter syndromes: a systematic literature review. European Concerted Action: DADA (Decision-making After the Diagnosis of a fetal Abnormality). Isn’t that a mouthful? It was done in 1999, and it says Down syndrome abortion rates were 90 – 92%. It makes me feel a bit sick to read on the National Down Syndrome Society myths and truths site that “one in every 691 live births is a child with Down syndrome, representing approximately 6,000 births per year in the United States alone.” The operative words in the NDSS statement would be “live births.”

The Wikipedia page offered another interesting piece of info. It said in its history section:

Most individuals with Down syndrome were institutionalized, few of the associated medical problems were treated, and most died in infancy or early adult life. With the rise of the eugenics movement, 33 of the (then) 48 U.S. states and several countries began programs of forced sterilization of individuals with Down syndrome and comparable degrees of disability. “Action T4” in Nazi Germany made public policy of a program of systematic murder.

How about this little gem?

Plastic surgery has sometimes been advocated and performed on children with Down syndrome, based on the assumption that surgery can reduce the facial features associated with Down syndrome, therefore decreasing social stigma, and leading to a better quality of life.[90]

Or this?

People with Down syndrome often encounter patronizing attitudes and discrimination in the wider community.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not all bad, and there is a lot of good being done for and by those with Down syndrome. I’m cherry picking out some of the darker bits because of a thought that occurred to me. “Why,” I’ve been wondering, “do people sometimes have such a hard time with those who must cope with disabilities, handicaps, and other unusual challenges?” It’s certainly not confined to those people who have Down syndrome. Mistreatment of the unfortunate and weak is a common theme in human history. Why? Why is that?

I’m sure there are lots and lots of reasons, some of which, like bullying, leap to mind. I’m not a fan of bullies, people who want power over others, so when it’s done its leaping, my thoughts go something like, “people stink. There are lots of rotten ones out there.” I do think that’s true, but I also think I’m being a bit stupid when I leave it at that.

Last week, my eyes lit upon the jacket of “Forrest Gump,” and I thought, “You know, he did okay. He just needed a lot of help, and he got it. People who wouldn’t take care of themselves even would help take care of him.” Oh… oh… wait, is that an idea? He just needed a lot of help. That’s something I’ve noticed about Kimberly. She can do so much, but for much of it, she needs help, and she needs more help than “normal” people.

Sometimes, people are pretty rotten and selfish. We like power. We don’t want to inconvenience ourselves to help others, but I really wonder if our profound antagonism toward someone like Kimberly who has unusual and profound need isn’t more than simple selfishness. I wonder if people like her aren’t meant to bring out the best in us, if their need should not invite exploitation but rather call out of us love, compassion, humility, steadfastness, service, patience, and other virtues. I wonder if we shrink away not out of greed, but out of fear of measuring ourselves against that yawning deficit and finding our own selves lacking. I wonder… I wonder… are the needs of others a mirror into which I am afraid to look?