We are waking up to the news that a *New *Safe *Accurate non-invasive blood test for Down’s Syndrome is to be rolled out across the NHS. It will reduce the risk of miscarriage, because it will reduce the need for the invasive tests that can lead to miscarriage, we are told. ‘That can only be good news, right?’ I hear you say. ‘We can now test for Down’s without the risk of losing perfect, healthy babies that have the chance to live productive and fulfilling lives, right?’
Wrong. We will still lose perfect babies who have the chance to live productive and fulfilling lives. But we won’t be losing them to miscarriage. They will be terminated because they are found to have Down’s Syndrome.
I am not against prenatal screening for those who wish to have it. What I am against is the blanket assumption that a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome leads automatically to the termination of the foetus. Having Down’s Syndrome should not carry a death sentence.
While the non-invasive blood test is ready for use, what is NOT ready, and not in place is the unbiased support necessary for those given a positive result to make a truly informed decision.
Attitudes amongst the medical (particularly, Obstetric) profession are outdated, and information is inadequate and inaccurate. Too many parents are left feeling termination is the only option. Some will feel tremendously pressured to take this option if they show reluctance, as I did.
It has been said (in an interview on BBC Breakfast this morning) that if the first ever screening tests for Down’s Syndrome were invented now, they would not be made available under the NHS, as it would not be seen as the job of the NHS to test for Down’s Syndrome; the implication being that it would be regarded as unethical – ‘Soft Eugenics’.
Remember – this procedure only tests for Down’s Syndrome (and two other trisomy disorders). Other ‘abnormalities’ are available. And not all can be revealed by screening, so this test, even if negative, does not guarantee you a ‘healthy’, ‘perfect’ baby. Nothing can guarantee that your perfect, healthy baby will stay healthy for the rest of their lives.
As we listened to the news programme this morning, my perfect, healthy son, complete with his additional chromosome was showing off his newly acquired literacy skills by reading the subtitles aloud. Luckily, by the time the Down’s Syndrome test was mentioned he was too busy with the much more important task of scoffing his cereal to read about the new danger to babies like the one he once was.
Babies with Down’s Syndrome are most at risk in their mother’s wombs. And today, the place that should be the safest of all, for them, just got a little more dangerous.