The BBC headline for this development was: ‘Safer’ Down’s syndrome test to be introduced in Wales.
But in the light of last week’s revelation from CBS News that Iceland, a country which routinely offers NIPT, is “on pace to eliminate Down’s syndrome through abortion” – shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, NIPT may be ‘safe’, but for whom?
The 2016 abortion statistics (released in June 2017) show an increase in the number of abortions for Down’s syndrome from 689 in 2015, to 706 in 2016. This represents a 46% increase in terminations since 2010.
It is most likely that this increase has been caused by the private availability of NIPT in the UK.
So why has NIPT been branded as ‘safe’?
NIPT has been branded by much of the medical establishment as ‘safe’ because the more accurate test reduces the need for as many women to go on for an invasive amniocentesis to confirm the presence of Down’s syndrome. The amnio procedure carries a 1% risk of miscarriage.
The BBC article reporting on the Welsh decisions states, “it is expected one to two babies per year in Wales will be saved from miscarriage as a result of the introduction of NIPT”.
Although, prolifers would usually welcome progress to reduce the risk of miscarriage, one must ask, at what cost? A factor which is rarely included in the calculations is the cost that such ‘advancements’ may have for those with Down’s syndrome.
In countries where over 90% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in the womb are aborted (this includes the UK at 90%, Denmark at 98% and Iceland at 99-100%), a more accurate ‘easy’ test to identify Down’s syndrome literally puts unborn disabled lives at risk of extermination.
Dr Peter McParland, an obstetrician from the National Maternity Hospital gave evidence to the Irish Citizens Assembly in January 2017, reporting that: “There hasn’t been a baby with Down’s Syndrome born in Iceland in the past five years.”“There hasn’t been a baby with Down’s Syndrome born in Iceland in the past five years.” Click To Tweet
Is the UK heading towards an Icelandic situation?
What can be done to stop the UK from snowballing towards a similar and devastating conclusion? Well at this rate, it does not look like the introduction of NIPT in England & Wales can be stopped for the time being. Jeremy Hunt refused to meet with concerned families before announcing the 2018 rollout on the NHS. However, as a society, it is still vital that we push for accurate and balanced information about Down’s syndrome to be given at the point of diagnosis.
This includes the need for:
- Improved training and guidance requirements for medical professionals;
- To ensure doctors, obstetricians and midwives presume a desire for parents to be supported and raise their child with a disability, whilst being able to clearly communicate balanced information on their particular disability.
- The ready and accessible provision of support for parents continuing their pregnancy;
- This would include information about their child’s disability and how to care for their child, and the support that is available from the NHS and local/national groups for parents with their child’s condition.
For more information about NIPT and the campaign run by parents of children with Down’s syndrome, please visit: http://dontscreenusout.org/ and follow ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.