Local mom behind push for Down syndrome legislation

Local mom behind push for Down syndrome legislation

Sarah Valiquette-Thompson and her husband, Ian, like all parents, relish the opportunity to celebrate their toddler’s milestones and, many times each day, cherish the love and joy he has brought to their family.

“Harvey just blows me away,” says Valiquette-Thompson. “He is sitting up now, he loves to throw a ball … his sister, Hayley, just lights up when she sees him. We are so grateful.”

Harvey, who recently turned a year old, was born with Down syndrome. But the oft-smiling toddler is not defined by that extra chromosome; he’s just a happy baby boy, says his mom with a smile.

However, Valiquette-Thompson knows her family is one of the lucky ones. She has heard “horror stories” about young parents who, upon learning their child would have Down syndrome, became overwhelmed, were not well informed, perhaps listened to “scary” advice from a physician and terminated the pregnancy.

“I know of a young woman who just feels so guilty that she made a decision to terminate her pregnancy,” said Valiquette-Thompson, noting the woman felt pressured to make a hasty choice and did not receive the proper education and counselling she desperately needed.

Those stories and her own experience have inspired Valiquette-Thompson to do her part to ensure that fate does not befall others.

The Orillia city councillor has formed a small, passionate grass-roots group that is pushing a private member’s bill she hopes will be introduced at Queen’s Park in early November to coincide with National Down Syndrome Day.

Valiquette-Thompson and her group have been working diligently over the past several months on legislation aimed at better educating parents and ensuring they have time to make an informed choice if they receive a pre-natal diagnosis that their child has Down syndrome.

The group recently made a presentation to Cambridge area MPP Belinda Karahalios asking her to be their champion at Queen’s Park. She talked to Valiquette-Thompson, thoroughly researched the issue, met with the group and appears poised to spearhead the private member’s bill.

“We were looking for the right voice and as soon as I met (Karahalios), I knew we had found it,” said Valiquette-Thompson. “She is one of those special politicians who listens and who understands it and she really wants to drive this forward.”

The idea behind the private member’s bill is to create legislation that would ensure all parents who receive a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome receive non-judgmental, informative, educational material approved by the Ministry of Health.

“Right now, there is no law on the books related to this,” said Valiquette-Thompson. “If you have to have your tonsils out or if you have cancer, a patient gets so much information … there is nothing for parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis for Down’s.”

In addition to the information, Valiquette-Thompson is hoping the legislation will enshrine a seven-day “cooling off” period to allow parents time to digest the news, to conduct research and to consult with professionals.

“It’s quite exciting because this would be the first legislation pertaining to Down syndrome in Canada,” said Valiquette-Thompson. “What is also really kind of neat about this is it’s non-partisan … I really believe it’s something politicians from all parties will rally behind.”

No matter what happens, the co-owner of R Cottage says Harvey has changed her life.

“All I can say is he has brought so much joy into our life and I feel like he has taught my husband and I to live in each moment. We look at life completely different now,” she said. “He’s a beautiful, little healthy baby. I want people to know it’s not scary, it’s beautiful.”