The question women least expect to hear when they have just given birth to a baby is: “And will you be taking her home?” But that’s what someone close to me was asked when she gave birth to a child with Down’s syndrome almost 25 years ago.
Attitudes have changed since then and not for the better. As Dennis Sewell writes this week, the Government is on the brink of a decision regarding whether to allow new screening technology for babies in the womb, which campaigners fear will lead to more abortions of babies with Down’s syndrome.
No one likes to talk about this in polite company, though. Support for refugees, hate for the Tories, contempt for Donald Trump is likely to grant you a lot of “likes” on Facebook but share a post about the pending elimination of people with Down’s syndrome and a sort of virtual tumbleweed moment ensues.
Thank God, then, for comedian Sally Phillips, my new hero – and a face you will remember from Alan Partridge’s Linton Travel Tavern or more recently dancing around Miranda Hart’s living room.
Phillips is from an industry which cannot usually be relied on to support anything deemed unfashionable and which is populated by the likes of Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle whose comments on Down’s syndrome have been asinine, to put it lightly.
The Today programme debated the introduction of new screening for Down’s Syndrome yesterday and this is what Phillips said: “As a parent of someone with Down’s syndrome I find this arms race for new technologies a bit upsetting … we need to remember we are talking about people. I think the current narrative about people with Down’s syndrome for whatever reason is treated as a tragedy.”
She added: “During pregnancy all the information you’re given is in leaflet form … a list of medical co-morbidity factors … because the doctors are the people who are conveying information it’s all medical and there’s no positive stuff.”
The presenter, Mishal Husain, then asked if Phillips was saying that there should be no screening at all for Down’s syndrome.
Phillips replied: “I think that is a question to be honest. I think we need to think as a society – we are signed up to various human rights acts, we’re hoping to move towards a more inclusive society, we do have to ask the question. If you think of people with Down’s syndrome as being a particular race then it’s utterly unacceptable, isn’t it?”