A group of concerned New Zealand parents and siblings of people with Down syndrome launched a new website this month called savingdownsyndrome.org as part of a campaign against the specific targeting of babies with Down syndrome by New Zealand’s government.
“We have formed in response to the New Zealand Government’s new state funded eugenic antenatal screening programme that targets and identifies unborn children with Down syndrome for selective abortion,” the group’s website states.
Members of the group, including Mike Sullivan, father of three-year-old Rebecca Sullivan who has Down syndrome, were featured in a 60 Minutes segment last month called “Down but not out” that aired on New Zealand’s TV3. The program discussed the government’s controversial Down syndrome screening program, and showed reactions from people with Down syndrome and their family members.
“This is a story about ordinary New Zealanders . . . but there’s one thing that makes them a little different. You see, people like them may soon disappear from the face of the earth,” the 60 Minutes segment begins.
The report goes on to point out that worldwide data shows up to 90% of Down syndrome pregnancies end in abortion.
Mr. Sullivan calls the government’s efforts to target Down syndrome a campaign of “ethnic cleansing in the womb.”
“Government documents confirm that the screening programme would prevent births of people with Down syndrome via selective abortion, leading to the destruction, in part, of that group through a significant reduction in the number of their births,” Mr. Sullivan asserts.
His claim stems in part from a government memorandum dated October 23, 2007 that Mr. Sullivan says states:
There is the potential for activities associated with improving the quality of antenatal screening for Down syndrome to have a negative impact on people with disabilities, including . . . . decrease in the number of babies born with Down syndrome. International experience suggests that as a result of screening and diagnostic tests, up to 90 percent of women who receive an antenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome will choose to terminate their pregnancies.
The group also lodged a complaint against the New Zealand government with the International Criminal Court (ICC) last month about the screening program. “The Office of the Prosecutor has been asked to investigate and intervene in the Ministry of Health’s antenatal screening programme, as it persecutes against people with Down syndrome through the prevention of their births,” the website states.
According to the group’s position statement on savingdownsyndrome.org, “We acknowledge that people with Down syndrome have an inalienable right to life from the moment of their conception until natural death, a right to be free from discrimination, and a right to be treated on an equal basis with all.”
The statement goes on, “People with Down syndrome are loved and valued members of their families. They lead full and satisfying lives, make positive and valuable contributions to society and enrich the lives of those around them.”
While the group recognizes that many parents are not opposed to genetic testing per se, they advocate that any testing that is performed must respect the life and integrity of the unborn child, cause no harm, be only directed towards safeguarding or healing the unborn child and be presented in a way that does not discriminate against people with Down syndrome or any disability.
“Any testing must be developed in full engagement with those with Down syndrome,” the group says.