In its recent photography exhibition, Portrait of Britain, displayed throughout the UK high streets, the British Journal of Photography featured a beautiful portrait of Beth Costerton, photographed for ‘This Is Me’, an exhibition of 50 portraits of children who have Down’s syndrome. This is a welcome development at a time when children with Down syndrome are at risk of extinction.
The nationwide exhibition on digital screens in railway stations, shopping centres, high streets and bus stops around the UK was based on a call for photographs that celebrate the UK’s unique heritage and diversity. Of nearly 4000 entries, the British Journal of Photography selected the portraits that capture the diversity of British people. The inclusion of the picture by photographer Andrew Shaylor of a girl with Down syndrome, Beth Costerton, sends a clear signal that such persons are equal members of British society.
At the same time, the terrible truth is that due to the widespread use of prenatal testing, the condition of Down syndrome is picked up during pregnancy and most such pregnancies sadly end in abortion The UK Down’s Syndrome Association acknowledges that the offer of prenatal testing for Down syndrome is a routine part of antenatal care but they seek to ensure that the prenatal testing process informs all potential parents and professionals of both the joys and challenges of having a child with Down syndrome.
A recent study carried out in the United States – Prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome: a systematic review of termination rates (1995-2011) – showed that somewhere between 67% and 85% of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. An earlier study had shown the figure could be as high as 90%, and it is believed that this level is reached in many European countries.
More initiatives like the “Portrait of Britain” project might help to change hearts and minds in European societies so that people with Down syndrome are given the opportunity to live their lives as cherished members of our diverse human community.
Earlier this year the European Parliament adopted a resolution on children with Down syndrome which called on the European Commission and the 28 EU Member States to launch a nation and Europe-wide awareness-raising campaign on Down syndrome.