There's been a subtle, but important, refocus when it comes to the screening of pregnant women for Down syndrome.

The National Screening Unit will now advise women that screening is available - rather than offering them the opportunity to be screened.

The SavingDowns organisation, a lobby group of parents and siblings of Down syndrome Kiwis, says the onus is on potential parents to request the test.

It's a subtle shift in emphasis but an important one because a growing number of people, health professionals included, believe that Down syndrome in itself is not a good enough reason to terminate a pregnancy.


And I would concur. It's a personal choice and not everyone is going to think the same way, but having worked with a number of Down syndrome children and adults, having enjoyed the humour and the wit and the work ethic of a number of young men and women with the condition, I can't see how anyone would consider a person born with Down syndrome to have any less right to be on the planet than those born free of it.

I accept that it would be a serious concern for parents wondering how a child who is "different" is going to be accepted by mainstream society - but does that mean that parents who carry the red-haired gene are also going to request screening so they, too, can prevent their little gingas suffering a lifetime of prejudice?

If you haven't met someone with Down syndrome, it's probably hard to understand but here are just a few examples of the sort of people I've met.

When I was MC at a fundraising evening for the Special Olympics a number of years ago, I was given strict instructions by the organisers to keep to the schedule. There was a lot going on, there were pressures from the kitchen - all the usual palaver.

So, when one of New Zealand's first Special Olympians decided he wanted to come up on stage, I told him he couldn't because I was speaking. "Well shut up, then," he said. "Tonight's about us, not you." He was absolutely right and I gave him the stage until the organisers had apoplexy.

Another young Down syndrome man was interviewing Michael Barrymore at a StarJam function. The interview was proceeding along normal lines until he said to Michael, "You used to be married, right?"

"Ah, yes," replied Michael nervously.

"And now you're gay?"

"Yessssss," said Michael.

"Hmmm," said the young interviewer, "so what happened? Did you just wake up one morning and say from now on, I'm going to be gay?"

It brought the house down and, really, it was what most people in the room had wondered.

I've also had the privilege of sharing a stage with Abigail, a young woman with extraordinary abilities. She delivered a brilliant speech, well written and with exquisite timing. She had rehearsed until she was word perfect but she could still deliver off-the-cuff one-liners that would be the envy of any stand-up comic.

I do not deny there are problems for Down syndrome kids but the problems they encounter are because of our attitude, not theirs.

If you think that by terminating the pregnancy, you'd be doing the child a favour, I recommend you ask a person with Down syndrome what they would choose.