The Influence of Maternal Age on Down syndrome
Children born to older parents are at greater risk for genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. No one knows what causes the chromosomal abnormality that results in Down syndrome, a condition according to the National Association for Down syndrome, affects one in 800 to 1,000 babies in the United States. Any woman regardless of her culture, race and socio-economic status can have a baby with Down syndrome. However, a mother’ age seems to be a unifying factor among children with Down syndrome. Older women have a greater chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome, and the risks increases with every passing year. The National Association for Down syndrome estimates the chance of having a baby with Down syndrome to be as follows:
Less than 1 in 1,000 for a woman below age 30
Approximately 1 in 400 for a 35-year-old woman
Approximately 1 in 105 for a 40-year-old woman
Approximately 1 in 20 for a 46-year-old woman
History of Down Syndrome
In 1886, physician John Langdon Down was the first scientist to identify Down syndrome. Down was the administrator of a mental institute for children in Surrey, England. From his observations and work at the institute, he was able to identify a set of children who exhibited characteristics such as short nose, broad flat face, short and broad hands, which are features commonly identified with Down syndrome. He later wrote an essay entitled “Observations of the Ethnic Classification of Idiots” in which he asserts the notion that it was possible to classify different types of health conditions through race. His essay included his now famous classification of what is today known as Down syndrome, which he categorized as the Mongolian type of idiot. As a result of his study, Down syndrome was also known as “Mongolism” and people who suffered from the disease were known as “Mongloids.” Unfortunately, Down’s classification was based on his ethnocentric beliefs that Mongolians were a less superior race than the British.
John Langdon Down, the scientist for which Down syndrome is named after (left) and Dr. Jerome Lejeune, who correctly identified Down syndrome as a chromosomal abnormality, not a condition based on one’s race (right) (Photos courtesy of The Museum of Disability).
By the 20th century, Down syndrome had not been identified as a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome. Instead, Down syndrome was the most recognizable form of mental disabilities because of the distinctive facial features associated with the disease. Those who suffered form the condition were institutionalized and died in infancy or early adult life since their medical problems were not properly treated. Due to the rise of the eugenics movement in the United States, 33 of the 48 states approved forced sterilization of individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities.
Examples of Sterilization laws passed in Indiana (right) and California...