Pro-life advocates have warned that a new non-invasive pre-natal test for Down syndrome could increase ‘eugenic’ abortions. The new test, which checks a baby’s DNA, has been developed by researcher Dr. Stephen Quake and his team at Stanford University.
Studies in the United States and the United Kingdom have claimed that as many as 9 in 10 unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.
Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association in Great Britain, recently told the BBC that the less invasive blood test will make pre-natal testing safer and more common.
“There is no question that these non-invasive tests will be introduced in the next few years,” she said. “It’s therefore incredibly important that potential parents are given accurate information on Down’s syndrome before they make a choice about whether to terminate or not.”
Allison Davis, a member of the No Less Human group associated with the British Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, argued that the new test was not a positive development.
“The new non-invasive test for Down's syndrome will inevitably mean more pre-natal testing, leading to more abortions of babies with the condition. Describing this as a 'breakthrough' is offensive to people who live with Down's syndrome, and to all who recognize the equal right to life of disabled people,” she said to LifeSiteNews.com.
All pregnant women who seek pre-natal care with an obstetrician are offered screenings that can estimate the risk they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome, Cybercast News Service says. Blood tests search for “markers” associated with the genetic condition, in which a third copy of the 21st chromosome causes mild to severe mental retardation and distinct physical characteristics such as low muscle tone and upward slanting eyes.
Uncertainty about the effectiveness of such tests was found in a Norwegian study conducted by the Norwegian National Center for Fetal Medicine and released in August of 2008. The researchers found that prenatal testing was highly inaccurate, estimating the prenatal detection rate at only 43 percent.
Another study published in 2006 in the journal Nature found that prenatal screening may have incorrectly diagnosed genetic variations as defects, possibly leading to selective abortion based on inaccurate reports of genetic abnormality.
In January 2007 ACOG endorsed increased prenatal screening for all women, prompting Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, to argue the move is another step towards eugenics.
“The progress of eugenic abortion into the heart of our society is a classic example of ‘mission creep,’” Johnson said in an article posted on the group’s Web site in February 2007, Cybercast News Service reports.
“In the 1960s, we were told that legal abortion would be a rare tragic act in cases of exceptional hardship. In the ‘70s abortion began to be both decried and accepted as birth control. In the ‘80s respected geneticists pointed out that it was cheaper to hunt for and abort Down’s babies than to raise them. By the ‘90s that observation had been widely put into action. Now we are refining and extending our eugenic vision, with new tests and abortion as our central tools.”Surveys of primary care physicians indicate that very few doctors encourage women whose unborn babies are diagnosed with Down syndrome to continue their pregnancies.