Each year thousands of babies are born with Down syndrome,
a congenital (genetic) disorder that typically
results in mild to severe intellectual disability (mental
retardation), physical deformities of the face and head, and
malformations of the heart and kidneys. In some cases the
heart or kidney defects are life threatening and cannot be
corrected by surgery, and the baby dies soon after birth.
People with Down syndrome typically have much shorter
life expectancies than normal adults, and those in which
the syndrome is severe are never able to care for themselves.
Through diagnostic tests it is now possible to detect
the presence of Down syndrome in a fetus after about 11
weeks of pregnancy. On the basis of such information,
some couples decide to abort a fetus with Down syndrome.
In other cases, the parents allow the baby to die by withholding
surgery that could correct a life-threatening defect.