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Opinion

Opinion: Yes to life

Doctors can diagnose early on whether a child will be born with genetic disorders. Speaking from experience, DW's Verica Spasovska argues it's a challenge that can be met.

People with Down syndrome are viewed more positively than people with other intellectual disabilities in Germany these days. The assistance network is excellent, allowing many people with Down syndrome to organize a large part of their own lives. Germany is even used to seeing artists and actors with Down syndrome on television.

All the same, pregnant women increasingly opt for an abortion when they are told their child has the genetic disorder. This is even more the case since the introduction of the so-called Triple Test - a simple blood test that can provide information even before the twelfth week of pregnancy as to whether a child in the womb has this disability.

Verica Spasovska

DW's Verica Spasovska

There are many reasons behind the decision to have an abortion: Firstly there is the shock of not giving birth to a healthy child. There is the fear of becoming overwhelmed by caring for a disabled child. What kind of burden will the expectant parents be facing? What will be the extent of the disabled child's mental and physical disabilities? What will happen to the family, the marriage, if the disabled child requires a lot of extra care?

Is it still necessary these days?

In addition, there is social pressure on parents who choose not to take a test at all, or who, despite a positive test result, decide to keep the child. Acquaintances and neighbors repeatedly ask them, "Is it really still necessary to have a disabled child?"

Such arrogance! Families who make the decision to raise a disabled child deserve our respect.

I am not criticizing those who decide not to keep a child with Down syndrome. Such a decision is a very personal one, which can only be made by expecting parents faced by this particular situation. I can understand the fear of raising a disabled child. And, in fact, it is not easy - and media reports that show families with disabled children as particularly fulfilled and happy cannot cover up this fact. Such families recount how amazingly big the developmental leaps can be, and how much the disabled child "gives back." But these are exaggerations that fall short of reality. Every family that has a disabled child faces a particular challenge: The parents, who have to cope with caring for a disabled child, have to deal with the concern about what will happen to their child when they get old and die - as well as the concern about burdening any siblings, who are often overshadowed.

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Is a life with a child that has Down syndrome, or another mental handicap less fulfilling than raising children who do not have a mental disability? This is the wrong question. It is different. The important difference is that parents of disabled children carry the responsibility for their child until the end of their lives, whereas children who are not handicapped are able to lead their own lives. But this is where the difference ends. Because the decision to have children is always an adventure.

Only perfect people?

But the central question is not answered by the medical advances that give us increasing possibilities to make choices, so that our children are born to be ever more perfect. The question is, do we only want perfect people? Do we want to block out everything that does not meet our ideals and expectations? This is a question that cannot be answered by medicine or politics. It is a question we must find an answer to ourselves.

I, for my part, am thankful to live in a country where people with disabilities aren't less valuable than other people - unlike 80 years ago, when the Nazis, in their racial fanaticism, killed thousands. I am thankful that families in Germany that raise mentally disabled children receive a lot of state and charitable support - and live in the heart of society.  Pregnant women who face the decision whether or not to have a child with Down syndrome or any other disability should know that they will not be left alone with this challenge. 

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