NY Times Article Op-ED: The Truth About Down Syndrome

Co-Authored by Jamie Edgin, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona (AZ UCEDD)

August 29, 2014

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 29, 2014, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: The Truth About Down Syndrome. 

LAST week the biologist Richard Dawkins sparked controversy when, in response to a woman's hypothetical question about whether to carry to term a child with Down syndrome, he wrote on Twitter: "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."

In further statements, Mr. Dawkins suggested that his view was rooted in the moral principle of reducing overall suffering whenever possible - in this case, that of individuals born with Down syndrome and their families.

But Mr. Dawkins's argument is flawed. Not because his moral reasoning is wrong, necessarily (that is a question for another day), but because his understanding of the facts is mistaken. Recent research indicates that individuals with Down syndrome can experience more happiness and potential for success than Mr. Dawkins seems to appreciate.

There are, of course, many challenges facing families caring for children with Down syndrome, including a high likelihood that their children will face surgery in infancy and Alzheimer's disease in adulthood. But at the same time, studies have suggested that families of these children show levels of well-being that are often greater than those of families with children with other developmental disabilities, and sometimes equivalent to those of families with nondisabled children. These effects are prevalent enough to have been coined the "Down syndrome advantage."

Read full article here.

Jamie Edgin is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. Fabian Fernandez is a research associate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.