The case for having a baby with Down syndrome

If these motivations do not seem to be at play, some other powerful cause must be responsible for the high rates of selective termination for Down syndrome. Bias is a prime candidate. Because Down syndrome is a cognitive disability, people with the condition tend not to manage all activities of daily living on their own. Western cultures value independence, and consequently people with high levels of dependency are often stigmatized. According to ideology that is influential in many countries, people should not expect government handouts, and social programs are a drain on taxpayers. Such beliefs can easily translate into loathing for people who are dependent. This bias against those who are dependent, if it is commonly held, would also tend to influence reproductive decisions. Few are more dependent than children with disabilities.

There is also evidence that bias against people with cognitive disabilities is widespread and tends to be perceived as acceptable. The Special Olympics organization has led an initiative asking people to refrain from using the slurs ‘retarded’ and ‘retard’ in their speech patterns. These offensive terms are often used in Hollywood movies and other profitable products of popular culture. An example: a character in the film “Ted” (2012), starring Mark Wahlberg, says ‘fucking retarded’ in a joke. The ‘joke’ appears to have incurred no objection from anyone: The film went on to gross $550 million worldwide, and the studio made a sequel.