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When our daughter Penny was a baby, I took her into Panera Bread at lunchtime. One of the women who worked there approached me. She said, "I love looking at your baby." Penny has Down syndrome, and I'm never sure what to make of a comment about her appearance. But the woman went on to say, "I have a sister." Her eyes filled for just a minute, but her smile returned as she looked at Penny. "Back in Morocco. I miss her so much." Down syndrome served as a bridge that spanned continents, language, and faith.

Down syndrome exists because of the presence of a third copy of the 21st chromosome. Today is the seventh annual World Down Syndrome Day, and it's the first year that the United Nations has official recognized it. Down syndrome naturally occurs at the same rate around the world. Race, religion, climate, and socioeconomic standing make no difference. But individuals with Down syndrome face different challenges in different parts of the globe. For example, women in countries with advanced prenatal testing and legalized abortion are more likely to terminate a pregnancy when the baby has Down syndrome. The government of Denmark recently reported, "If current health policies and trends continue, Denmark could be a country without a single citizen with Down's syndrome in the not too distant future." Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities, predicts a similar future in France.

Ironically, those same babies are likely to live a long and full life in a developed country due to access to health care and early intervention. In developing nations, children with Down syndrome are highly unlikely to survive childhood. Even when they do, they are often stigmatized and rejected by their communities. But Christians around the world ...

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March 2012

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