Tuesday, 27 October 2009


We spent a very enjoyable evening with friends at the 18th birthday party for a lovely young lady at the weekend, she is the sister of my God-daughter. I remember her birth and the privilege of being one of the first to see her and her adoring parents in the hospital. I also remember the following weeks as the baby was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and the determination of her parents over the years to ensure only the best for her in care and education. The birthday party gave the young woman the party she has dreamed of having and the joy on her face as she and her friends partied and danced was a delight to see.

Over the years in ministry I have had the privilege of getting to know several children, men and women with Down’s Syndrome. In one parish I prepared a young man called Alan for confirmation and I still remember vividly the reverence on his face as he knelt before the bishop. Alan used to come to church with a scarf draped as a stole around his neck, a piece of paper in his collar like a priest and he would always bring some bread for the communion. I suspected that Alan never thought we were a proper church; he preferred a more catholic service to our church plant services as we met in a school hall on the urban overspill housing estate. Alan had worshipped at another church in the town for a time, but some of the congregation found his attire and actions irreverent and he was discouraged from attending. Their loss was our gain because Alan and the others from the supervised accommodation on the estate were an integral part of our church life and ministry and I couldn’t imagine the church family without them. Alan died a few years ago.

Today the British Medical Journal has published a report suggesting a steep rise in the number of Down’s Syndrome diagnoses. Various factors have been identified to explain this increase, including a growth in the number of women deciding to start a family later in life and the wider availability of diagnostic tests. About 92% of those receiving a diagnosis as a result of screening choose to terminate the pregnancy. Yet, this is only part of the story.

On Saturday The Times ran a story stating that between 2000 and 2006 the number of children born with Down’s Syndrome had increased by some 15%. The explanation given is that more parents are willing to consider bringing up a Down’s child. Various factors have been suggested for this decision including; those with religious/moral objections to abortion, awareness of an increased quality of life and life expectancy for those with Down’s Syndrome, changes in social attitudes and integration into mainstream education.

Another reason given for the willingness of some to bring up a child with Down’s Syndrome is that they know people with Down’s or other disabilities. This seems to me to be key to our attitude to disability; when we know the person and not just about the condition then our perspective changes. This is in no way to diminish the challenges and sacrifices that many parents make in nurturing a disabled child; I am only too aware of all that my friends have given over the last eighteen years in caring for their daughter. However, I also know how much she has enriched the lives of her parents, brothers, sister, the wider family and her friends; it was clear for anyone to see at her birthday party on Sunday evening.

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