Image Credit: Sigga Ella/siggaella.com
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder which affects approximately 1 in every 700 babies born in the U.S. every year. Down syndrome occurs when a child is born with an extra chromosome, according to the National Down Syndrome Society:
Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm - although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.
Advanced testing in developed countries has led to mothers and fathers being able to identify with high-accuracy if their child will be born with Down before birth. Elective abortions for parents with access to this knowledge has skyrocketed, leading to a plummeting of the population of children born with Down. The population of Down babies has been decimated in countries where Down testing and abortion procedures are available. These procedures are often government subsidized. According to Yahoo:
Studies vary, but anywhere from 67 percent to 85 percent of women who learn their baby has Down Syndrome terminate their pregnancies, according to a 2012 University of South Carolina review published in the medical journal Prenatal Diagnosis.
In the Netherlands, the termination rate for Down babies is between 74% and 94%.
In Denmark, the termination rate is 98%.
In Iceland, the termination rate is 100%.
You read that correctly. According to a report presented to Icelandic Parliament and the Down Pride statistics presented to the United Nations, “all pregnancies during the period 2008-2012, in which Down-Syndrome was diagnosed, were terminated – 100 percent.”
You can imagine the numbers come as a shock to those who care about the issue of Down or have loved ones living with the disorder. The numbers will also come as a shock to pro-life advocates and those who morally object to eliminating a population based on the “undesirable” traits they are born with.
One of the people shocked by the statistics is Icelandic photographer and artist Sigga Ella. Ella's aunt was born with Down syndrome and, after learning the shocking statistics from her homeland on elective abortions for Down babies, the artist began to worry about the moral justifications of the extermination of this entire population of people. The artist says on her website:
The aim with prenatal diagnosis is to detect birth defects such as Down syndrome and more. Where are we headed? Will people choose not to keep an embryo if they know it has Down syndrome? I had a lovely aunt with Down syndrome, aunt Begga. It is very difficult for me to think about the elimination of Down syndrome and her at the same time."
Ella was compelled to humanize this group of people with a photo project she calls, “First and foremost I am.” The collection features 21 photos of Down individuals of all ages and is described by Ella thusly:
The series consists of 21 portraits of people who all have Down syndrome and the reason for that number is because the trisomy of the 21st chromosome causes Down syndrome. She chose to photograph people of all ages and both genders and wanted to show that each of these individuals is a person like anyone else and should not be judged by one extra chromosome. The backdrop is colorful and happy and relates to the diversity and colorfulness of the human race. It shows us that all kinds of flowers can grow and flourish together, and we should also cherish the diversity of humans. “First and foremost I am” is an eyeopener for the beauty and diversity of mankind and makes us wonder if the future without this diversity is desirable.
The photos are stunning. Here is the masterpiece, with permission from the artist, “First and foremost I am.”
The powerful series has led to worldwide renown. The photos have led writers and others to ask questions about the practice and if the selecting out of an entire group of individuals in the human race is morally right, even if it may be “convenient.”
Historian Tim Stanley wrote an essay against the selecting out of Down individuals in The Telegraph entitled, “Down's Syndrome people risk 'extinction' at the hands of science, fear and ignorance.” In the essay, Stanley debunks three myths about people living with Down Syndrome.
Myth #1: Down Syndrome is an embarrassing disease.
It’s not. It’s due to an extra chromosome being present in a baby’s cells – it’s not “inherited”, it’s not “caught” like a cold and it’s not due to “mistakes” made by the parent. There is nothing shameful about it and people don’t suffer from it. They live with it.
Myth #2: Down Syndrome kids die young.
They used to, and it’s quite true that they can be susceptible to problems such as heart defects or deafness. But huge advances in care mean that most now live into their sixties, and lead very active lives.
Myth #3: Down Syndrome kids remain kids forever.
They don’t. They grow into adults like you and me, with all the same emotions, worries and joys. The important thing to remember is that every case is unique and each individual capable of a different level of personal development. Some choose to date and marry. Some keep down jobs.
A strong reminder that all lives do matter.