Why We Should All Celebrate World Down Syndrome Day

March 21st is internationally recognized as World Down Syndrome Day. Just like typical people, individuals with Down syndrome have two copies of each of their 23 chromosomes but they have third copy of chromosome 21, a genetic condition known as trisomy 21, hence the celebration on March 21st or 3-21.

While it is important to celebrate all the things that people with Down syndrome can do and how similar they are to others, I would argue it is equally important to acknowledge the ongoing fight against discrimination that their differences evoke.

If we consider that discrimination leveled against women or African Americans in our country is based on whether someone is born with an X or Y chromosome or with a few gene variants that define skin pigmentation, it is easy to see how people with Down syndrome had to endure unspeakable discrimination up until the 1990s — denied medical care and education, forced to live in inhumane institutions, and essentially condemned to an early death.

Of course, we are not responsible for our chromosomes or genes any more than we are responsible for the parents we happen to have. Those who discriminate against people of a different genetic makeup fail to realize that we are all mutants. There is no such a thing as a perfect genome. We all carry DNA variants that predispose us to this or that “undesirable” trait. Nobody is exempt from this truth. White people are more likely to die of melanoma, black people are more likely to die of asthma, and the “sexiest woman alive” had to remove her breast tissue because of one particularly obnoxious mutation.

For a population geneticist, it is obvious that strength lies in diversity. Species with narrow gene pools are more likely —> Read More

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