George Will writes a column to mark his son Jon’s fortieth birthday: “Jon Will, 40 years and going with Down syndrome.”
When Jonathan Frederick Will was born 40 years ago — on May 4, 1972, his father’s 31st birthday — the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome was about 20 years. That is understandable.
The day after Jon was born, a doctor told Jon’s parents that the first question for them was whether they intended to take Jon home from the hospital. Nonplussed, they said they thought that is what parents do with newborns. Not doing so was, however, still considered an acceptable choice for parents who might prefer to institutionalize or put up for adoption children thought to have necessarily bleak futures. Whether warehoused or just allowed to languish from lack of stimulation and attention, people with Down syndrome, not given early and continuing interventions, were generally thought to be incapable of living well, and hence usually did not live as long as they could have.
These days people with Down syndrome can live a lot longer and a lot better in the United States—thanks to being treated as human beings—and contribute to society and to humanity in ways that are very special. Ironically, however, as George Will also notes, most who are now conceived are never given the chance to be born.