Science

Is Down Up?

|

Corky is my president.

Here's something surprising that you may have missed: The number of children born with Down syndrome appears to be increasing.

A study published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics concludes, "From 1979 through 2003, the prevalence of Down Syndrome at birth increased by 31% from 9.0 to 11.8 per 10,000 live births in 10 U.S. regions."

As NPR notes here, this goes against conventional expectations that prenatal screening would lead to a steep drop in the Down Syndrome population, as more parents opt to abort babies who test positive. While the study provides few details, author Adolfo Correa suggests the increase is a result of women waiting longer to have children. The likelihood of a Down Syndrome birth increases by a factor of five in mothers over 35. (Presumably it also increases the likelihood that a woman will decide to go ahead with the pregnancy anyway, in the belief that she won't get another chance.) The study says the increase "paralleled the increasing proportion of births to older mothers."

Interestingly, in a report just a few weeks earlier, Children's Hospital Boston pediatric geneticist Brian Skotko was quoted as saying there had been a 15 percent decrease in Down Syndrome births between 1989 and 2005. I'm not sure what data set he was drawing from, but Skotko also claimed that in the absence of prenatal screening we would have seen a 34% increase in DS births over that time period—remarkably close to the increase claimed by Correa.

So if an estimated 92% of all women who get a positive Down Syndrome result choose to terminate their pregnancies, how is the number of births increasing? It's tempting to say there are just more stubborn Sarah Palins out there than generally understood—and there is no shortage of moms who seize on the Pediatrics findings to speak out for their own decision to accept the "gift." The good news is that Americans with Down Syndrome, like all Americans, are living longer, healthier, fuller lives.

But it does raise some interesting questions about just how well we can predict any future patterns in human evolution. On the one hand you have a bunch of quacks insisting it's mathematically inevitable that redheads will become extinct around the time Al Gore's sea level rises by one full astronomical unit. On the other hand, you have a case where the means and motive for selection are available to everybody, and yet the trend is moving in the opposite direction from what the smart money predicted. Either futurists aren't listening to Jeff Goldblum or people are less predictable than advertised.

Of course the real question about folks with Down Syndrome remains: Are they happier than you and me? Devo investigates:

NEXT: War: What Is It Good For? (Cont'd)

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. ONE CHROMOSOME TOO MANY

    Ahh, I love Devo.

    This is also appropriate.

    1. And he brought home the bacon. Bacon = happiness. Case closed.

    2. People with Down’s syndrome would pass that extra chromosome to half of their children, on average.

      This has obvious implications.

      1. I know of no statistics, but I think few Down’s syndrome people reproduce.

          1. males with DS are almost always sterile; females, on the other hand, can become pregnant, a fact that causes no end of anxiety for parents of girls with DS. My child with DS happens to be male.

        1. Historically, they never lived long enough or had the independence.

          But, yes, Down’s Syndrome is inheritable.

          1. 95% or so of all cases are not inherited from a parent with DS, but are from mutations in the chromosomes of parents w/out DS

            1. Which is true, because Down’s syndrome occurs in far less than 1% of the human population.

  2. Corky looks like he’s more on the stick than Obama.

  3. I think the birth rate of ds babies is on the rise because of older women who are finding it is not as easy as they were SOLD. We all received the message to wait till you have a career and then have a child. I had a child at forty and did not have any screening for problems that could not be fixed. My Dr made me sign an agreement (more than once) that declared I was going against recommendations. I chose not to follow because life is unpredictable but I did ask for the test that could tell me if my child will crack her head open at ten.

    1. We all received the message to wait till you have a career and then have a child.

      Are women somehow more susceptible to bull shit “messages”?
      Wait, why am I asking?

      1. SIV,Are we? Wait I will think about it while I read my Cosmo mag article “Fuck Like A Man, Bitch At Work” and run my ass off on the treadmill.

        1. You know, if you replace the comma with a hyphen, that could be a pretty interesting article.

    2. The chart on this page backs up the assumption.

      http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publi…..Occurrence

  4. “From 1979 through 2003, the prevalence of Down Syndrome at birth increased by 31% from 9.0 to 11.8 per 10,000 live births in 10 U.S. regions.”

    You know what else rose steadily in that exact same time period? That’s right, the global temperature. Put two and two together, people! Climate Change causes Down syndrome.

    1. +100

      Correlation = Causation

      This is true, because our CORRELATION BASED climate models say so.

    2. And at this rate, by 2100, every child born will have Down Syndrome. And if they’re lucky, gills.

      1. That movie has already been done.

      2. This would explain the additional sea level rises that Gore keeps warning us about.

        He knows that when thousands of obese, gill breathing DS kids take to the ocean, the sea level will have to rise.

        I for one, salute our new amphibious masters.

    3. Put two and two together, people! Climate Change causes Down syndrome.

      You have it exactly backwards, FOE. It is the increased number of people with DS that are causing global warming.

    4. Global warming my ass. It’s clearly a retroactive effect of childhood vaccines.

  5. I would love to see these numbers in relation to sales of small dogs.

    1. You equated ProL and myself earlier, Bingo. You sure you don’t have one chromosome too many? Do you wear a hat? Do you have a job? Do you bring home the bacon? Does no one know?

      1. The worst part was I wasn’t even drunk yet and still at work!

        1. Bingo? Baucus? You DON’T drink at work in the Senate?

  6. From 1979 through 2003, the prevalence of Down Syndrome at birth increased by 31%

    Corky is my Fed Chairmain.

  7. Man oh Manischewitz !

    (Firefox spell check doesn’t help with that one)

  8. People actually abort them just because they have Downs Syndrome? I can understand aborting your kids if you think they’ll grow up to be politicians, but Downs Syndrome?! WTF?

    1. 9 out of 10 get the hook. That is part of why there is so much Sarah Palin hate

      1. We would have, but a week after the fetus tested likely for DS, it tested negative for life on it’s own.

        Already had one healthy kid, so we never tried again.

        And yes, I jack off a lot now…

        1. Dude, just get a vasectomy.

    2. My brother had downs syndrome. He was loving. He was happy. He brightened everyone’s day when he came into the room. He did not incur an additional medical costs. The thought of someone aborting their baby solely because it has downs syndrome is repugnant to me. It’s the ultimate bigotry, killing someone just because they are different than you.

      We can rationally discuss abortion in other contexts, but when it comes to aborting those with downs syndrome I will not waver.

      1. Brandybuck,”He did not incur an additional medical costs.” is that were you draw the line? I am assuming you are a libertarian and as such against public health care. What if your parents could not afford a surgery for problems associated with a ds baby ( near 50% with heart problems). I am sincerely interested in your perspective in either case.

      2. Brandy, what about increased educational costs? In my kids school each of them has had at least one kid with DS and each of them had a pit crew of helpers so they could be main streamed.

        I am not advocating the position that the decision to abort should be made on a financial basis. I’m just pointing out that kids with DS cost more than kids without DS.

        I’m also interested in what other contexts you think abortion can be discussed.

        I think my position would be that the decision to abort for any reason is a personal one. I couldn’t bring myself to condemn someone because they decided they didn’t want to have a kid with downs syndrome.

        1. To be fair, most or all of the extra educational costs might be due to the (IMHO) idiotic idea that they need to be “mainstreamed,” which seems like a manifestation of the “one size must fit all” views of the education establishment.

          1. PapayaSF “idiotic idea that they need to be “mainstreamed” because in my day we just locked them in the cellar. FIFY ass.

            1. What makes you think I’m advocating locking them in cellars? It just seems obvious to me that it makes more sense (at least much of time) to “track” students so that the instruction can be optimized for various groups. I don’t think it helps the slow kids to always be the slowest kids in the one-size-fits-all classes, even with extra helpers, instead of having a curriculum tailored for their needs and abilities. And I know it’s not ideal for the smart kids to get the same instruction that everyone else does.

              I can’t reference any studies, but I’ll bet the justification for mainstreaming has more to do with misguided PC egalitarianism than with hard results. It’s just another symptom of the sort of thinking that Berkeley High School is doing now: considering ending science labs to “free up resources” for the struggling kids.

              1. Kids are tracked but not in the way we have traditionally thought. I have noticed that my quiet child is put in with the more rambunctious kids. My confident child is always next to the insecure student. Slow kids benefit from example. Observing siblings with any age difference is the classic example of the “I can do it too” attitude. Smart kids have a greater comprehension of instructed materials and tend to work independently. All the students benefit from these children by habituating tolerance.

                1. I’d like to see actual evidence of this, though, because it sounds a lot like modern education school PC blather to me….

                  1. PapayaSF, I could find a study that proves my point or you could just ask any parent with a five and two year old.

      3. My brother had downs syndrome. He was loving. He was happy. He brightened everyone’s day when he came into the room. He did not incur an additional medical costs. The thought of someone aborting their baby solely because it has downs syndrome is repugnant to me. It’s the ultimate bigotry, killing someone just because they are different than you.

        Does he have any kids?

      4. My brother had downs syndrome …. The thought of someone aborting their baby solely because it has downs syndrome is repugnant to me. It’s the ultimate bigotry, killing someone just because they are different than you.

        You have my sincere sympathies regarding your brother, but have you considered there might well be reasons other than “bigotry” or “dislike of someone different from you” that would make a woman NOT want to have a Down’s baby? I’d guess that, with the exception of Munchausen’s-by-proxy parents, pretty much everybody, if they had a choice, would rather have a healthy child than a non-healthy child.

        1. The only question should be whether you think abortion is acceptable.

          If you do, your motivations should be irrelevant. Freedom means the freedom to be wrong.

          If you think abortion is murder, however, you need to explain why killing someone before birth because of disability is different from killing a toddler because of disability.

      5. I agree with Jennifer; I don’t judge the decision any parent makes when faced with a certainty that their unborn child will be “differently abled”. It’s no picnic raising a son w/ DS, but there are no guarantees that a child born healthy will remain that way, and my life is much easier than that of parents I know with children with autism or Duschenes MD or any number of other disabilities. And yes, the educational costs are much higher, and for many, so are the medical costs. So many factors to consider, and I don’t presume to make the decision for anyone else.

  9. Didn’t he used to coach the Knicks?

  10. redheads will become extinct around the time Al Gore’s sea level rises by one full astronomical unit

    Egads. I pity the people of the future. A world without folks like me in it would be a bleak and colorless place, but I still ain’t gonna be birthin’ no babies.

    1. Fair enough. Just because you’re pretty, it doesn’t obligate you to pass your genes on.

      1. It’s still bleak to imagine a future without the Jennifer code. I or the milkman sired two redheads, so we’re at more than replacement level. But the Jennifer code should be preserved for the future, at least in the form of rfid trading cards or something. Also, I shouldn’t have used interesting twice in this post. It’s a tell that the post isn’t interesting.

        1. The strands in my hairbrush contain plenty of DNA and THC. Everything that brings joy and laughter to the modern world and makes life worth living will still be available to posterity.

          1. Well, be kind enough to preserve your genes then. Do you really think the world needs LESS of that?

            1. I HAVE preserved my genes, dammit. Every strand of my hair is roughly two and a half feet long these days, which adds up to five miles of DNA in my hairbrush alone.

    2. yeah the blondes will go extinct/redheads will go extinct thing is stupid and totally forsakes an understanding of hardy/weinberg. In fact in order for a trait to go extinct, it has to confer negative selection. And judging by some fetishes that people have, I’d say the world population of blond/redhead will probably actually increase instead of decrease.

      1. Unless it’s rare enough that it disappears by chance. Generally it would have to appear in a small and isolated population for that to happen.

  11. A few weeks ago, I googled down syndrome porn to see what I could see. (The idea didn’t turn me on; it merely piqued my curiosity.) It’s surprisingly difficult to find?although I’m not the first person to think of it. It would certainly raise questions of free speech and consent that would interest us libertarians.

    1. The idea didn’t turn me on

      We believe you. Totally. Mm-hmm.

    2. They are adults.

      End of discussion.

  12. I don’t know why my friend’s obese, chain-smoking, forty-year-old mother was surprised when it happened to her. Why do such people choose to have children?

    1. Obviously we need to outlaw vaccines then.

      Or something.

  13. 2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

    “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”80

    “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”81

    2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

    Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”82

    2275 “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”83

    “It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”84

    “Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity”85 which are unique and unrepeatable.

  14. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

    “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”

    “The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”

    Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

    Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, “if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.”

    “One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.”

    “It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.”

    “Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity” which are unique and unrepeatable.

  15. Paging Mad Max…

    1. I’m sure he’ll show up eventually.

  16. ‘abort babies who test positive.’

    Babies? What kind of fundamentalist propaganda are you peddling? They’re obviously not babies, or else they would have human rights, such as the right to life. Calling them babies gives aid and comfort to the Mad Maxes of the world.

    1. After having four (thank god healthy) children, I maintain that they’re not really fully human until about six months after birth. But I’m willing to limit abortion to the second trimester, just to be on the safe side.

      1. they’re more like an awful houseguest who soils himself on the regular and complains about the food nonstop.

  17. Curious use of the term “stubborn” to describe Palin and her pregnancy. Is having a child against the wishes of… oh I don’t know… SOME STRANGER, ANYBODY, considered stubborn these days?

    I know Palin has become the easy target for the lazily tossed slings and arrows but your point doesn’t seem to have a point.

  18. No gingers? No gingers? I would pay extra taxes for a government project to keep that gene going, no matter how wasteful…

  19. If abortion is justified because a fetus has DS, why not execution when the kid is born if the DS was not detected or tested for in utero? I mean, they’re gonna cost a lot either way, right? I’m becoming more pro-life every day when people use such rationalizations.

    1. Nick, abortion needs no justification. Its a human right, right there in the emanations of the penumbras of the Constitution.

      Get with the program, man.

    2. Nick, I can never take you right-to-lifers seriously until you adequately explain your reluctance to charge women who have abortions with first-degree murder?even though that’s the necessary conclusion to your premise.

      1. Who said I was reluctant to charge them with first degree murder?

        We’re talking about people who apparently wanted to have a baby until they realized life is too hard to deal with. I didn’t say I was a right to lifer, only that these rationalizations for abortion might get me there.

        If you get pregnant as an oops and have an abortion because you never intended to be pregnant, I can at least understand that rationale if that is someone’s line of thinking. If you wanted to have a child, then discovered you may have to exert some extra effort to care for your offspring? Really? It seems like murder at that point, just like it would seem like murder if they killed the kid after it passed through the birth canal. The rationale is what I am having a problem with.

        I’m not pro-life or pro-choice. It is too complicated for me to think either way is completely correct.

  20. On the other hand, you have a case where the means and motive for selection are available to everybody, and yet the trend is moving in the opposite direction from what the smart money predicted.

    Because people don’t use the “selection” for rational purposes.

    These are pregnant women, for crying out loud. They are making decisions driven by hormones and emotion (NTTAWT).

    In other cultures, “selection” is being used to get rid of females, for a variety of cultural reasons going back millenia. Anyone care to argue that is rational?

  21. This guy just comes off as a major tool to me!

    Jess
    http://www.invisibility-tools.pl.tc

  22. As much grief as redheads have caused me over the years, it would still be a tragedy for the breed to disappear.

  23. Tim, the devo song at the end was kind of crass, though it is a great song.
    But I ask, why is it still ok to dehumanize the disabled? I used to not care, but after years of working directly with people who have down syndrome and other disabilities it just makes me sad. Spend a few years working with the population and then see if its easy to be so flip about it.

    1. Sorry, but being flip without regard to feelings is pretty much what blog comments are for.

  24. I would expect this would have more to do with the higher number of men over 40 siring children than a higher number of older women bearing children. Chromosomal defects in sperm rise as a man ages. I thought that a woman’s full inventory of eggs were created fairly early in life.

    1. They are, but the eggs still have a best-by date and once they get to be 35 years old they’re just not as fresh as they used to be.

      1. I don’t think that’s obvious. Neurons are also all present at birth and they don’t go bad as one ages.

      2. Checking up on it, there are several steps in the process of producing egg cells. If I understand correctly, primary oocytes are are all produced birth and have 46 chromosomes. Secondary oocytes are produced at thr time of ovulation and normally have 23 chromosomes. Sometimes there’s an error and a 24th chromosome is present. This is more likely as a woman gets older.

  25. DEVO sucks. They suck bad. No talent whatsoever. They were a critics favorite probably because of some geek quotient. By the way Reasonoids what ever happened Politics and Progr on Fridays. The comments section on H&R sucks really bad. Everyone needs to get a life, a bunch of devoids.

    1. Politics and Prog was my deal, but I left.

  26. Downs babies are apt to self-abort, sometimes as late as 5-6 months. Our advanced ability to keep those babies alive must account for some of the increase.

  27. hi,
    everybody, take your time and a little bit.ghsrsrhgse

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.