First published March 8, 2013
About a month ago everyone was all abuzz over the first public appearance of Xiao Liwu, the baby panda bred in captivity at the San Diego zoo. The world cooed and pondered this miracle of life engineered by the San Diego zoo and their panda breeding program.
Now I like cute and cuddly as much as the next person. In fact, maybe even a little more. But, as I read the story regarding the challenges of breeding these animals, I couldn't help but think about another article, published just over a year ago in 2011, when Denmark proudly proclaimed that it would soon be the first Down Syndrome-free nation in the world. Its official Web site stated:
"A medical review from 2002 of elective abortions in the UK and the US found that around 92% of all fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome were aborted. In Denmark, medical experts estimate the rate of abortions to be even higher. If the current trend continues, it is predicted that the last Down Syndrome baby in Denmark could be born in 2030." (www.mercatornet.com)
This announcement was proclaimed by many scientists and researchers as a "tremendously great accomplishment." I cannot help noticing a disturbing paradox here. I ask myself why it is a great accomplishment that children with Down Syndrome become extinct while the survival of the panda is of international concern?
Perhaps it is because children with Down Syndrome are born with varying amounts of intellectual disability, and have difficulty achieving standardised learning goals at the same rate as other children. But from news reports, pandas are apparently so dumb they can't figure out how to breed without human help, so the panda does not stand out as a paragon of intelligence either.
Denmark describes its goal as that of a perfect society, and part of this plan is to remove "undesirable citizens" before they can even be born. But a society that decides which citizens are worthy to live and die seems far from perfect!
Other countries following suit
Along with Denmark other countries are also encouraging the termination of Down Syndrome fetuses and New Zealand is one of them. New Zealand recommends no-cost prenatal visits that include testing for "genetic or developmental conditions."
Since Down Syndrome cannot be treated in the womb, the principal reason for early testing is to abort these children as soon as possible. These tests are helping New Zealand drop the Down Syndrome birthrate. Currently, 75% of all Down Syndrome pregnancies are terminated and this figure is predicted to rise by 15% in the next 3-4 years. (autismandoughtisms.wordpress.com)
The economic burden debate
One of the main arguments in favor of the widespread application of prenatal testing, accompanied by termination of pregnancy, is the idea that this will decrease the economic burden of genetic disease by reducing the life time costs of care for people with Down Syndrome.
However, if the same amount of resources were being used to help those with Down's as are being used to help endangered pandas, then perhaps this idea of economic burden wouldn't be a problem.
The San Diego zoo has spent an estimated $30 million on its panda program. Further north and east, Toronto is raising $20 million to bring two pandas from China to their zoo, while philanthropist David M. Rubenstein recently made a $4.5 million gift to the Smithsonian's National Zoo to fund a panda reproduction program. The reason for this generosity? "Because pandas make people happy."
In comparison, the National Institutes of Health spent 20 million on Down Syndrome research in 2011, which was an 8 million dollar reduction in what was spent the year before.
It seems a disturbing sign of the times that the life of a panda is more desirable and more protected then the life of an unborn human child.
God's word on the disabled
The bible demonstrates that people with Down Sydrome, or any other disability are not genetic accidents but have been designed that way by God. When the Lord talks to Moses at the burning bush he says, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say." (Exodus 4 verses 10-12).
Here the Lord is taking responsibility for a "disability." And He claimed to have made it that way on purpose!
Jesus welcomes people with all manner of disabilities into the kingdom of God and instructs us how to treat people with disabilities: "Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
But when you give a banquet, "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous'" (Luke 14 verses 12-14). A Down syndrome child, whether born or unborn has the right to live, and to be treated as an equal in society.
Mercy Cornish (21) lives in Christchurch and studies at Canterbury University. Mercy has completed a Bachelor of Arts degree studying Media and Communications and Political Science. This year Mercy is undertaking honours in Media and Communications.
Mercy Cornish' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mercy-cornish.html