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Look out, Australia: Down syndrome cooties!

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In the United States, about 1 in 800 live births is that of a child who has an extra copy of chromosome 21, a condition which results in a cluster of symptoms known as Down syndrome. The rate is much lower than it could be because the medical community is very good at preventing Down syndrome births. They cannot prevent this defect from occurring, but they can detect it before birth and kill affected children in utero. In the U.S., at least 80% to 90% of children with Down syndrome are killed in this way. In the United Kingdom, over 90% of babies with Down syndrome are killed before birth.2

The practice of aborting affected babies is euphemistically called "the result of a termination decision" rather than "eugenic abortion."

Down syndrome is not contagious. You can't get any Down syndrome on you by touching someone with the condition, nor by letting them into your community.

Nevertheless, the Australian immigration department seems frightened of letting Down syndrome in.3 A doctor from Germany, whose services are desperately needed to serve the health care needs of a rural part of Australia, has been denied permanent residency because his 13-year-old son has Down syndrome.

Fear of chromosome 21 cooties is not the official reason for the decision. The official reason is that the boy would be a burden to the Australian community. But this excuse is laughable because letting the family stay would plainly be a net gain for Australia; they need this doctor's services, as he is the only internist in the region.

To his nation's credit, the premier of Victoria, John Brumby, supports the family's cause for permanent residency status, as does the health minister. They can see what is clear and obvious: the doctor's son requires far less in terms of services than his father provides to the community.

People with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of health problems and generally have mental retardation to varying degrees. Yet they are cheerful, happy folks, some of whom are able to earn university degrees despite their disabilities. Like other children, Down syndrome kids are gifts, and Australia should welcome this family, not slam the door in their face.


  1. Comarow, Avery, 1995. "An earlier test for Down syndrome." U.S. News & World Report.
  2. Mansfield, Hopfer, and Marteau, 1999. "Termination rates after prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, spina bifida, anencephaly, and Turner and Klinefelter syndromes: a systematic literature review." Prenatal Diagnosis 19(9): pp. 808-812.
  3. Associated Press, November 1, 2008. "Australia denies residency for dad of boy with Down syndrome."

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