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Pregnancy screening stories highlight bias against Down's

2nd Nov 2018 - Rachael Adams

Non-invasive pre-natal tests (NIPT) can more accurately determine whether an unborn child has a genetic condition such as Down’s syndrome. It became available on the NHS last year and CARE warned it was likely to lead more abortions if a positive diagnosis for Down’s is found. In countries where NIPT is commonly available such as Iceland, 100 per cent of women who screen positive for Down’s terminate their pregnancy. In the UK 90 per cent of women have a termination if they know their baby has Down’s.

Two concerning news stories this week have highlighted again the problems associated with non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT).

In Wales, a leaflet for women opting for NIPT has been scrapped after it was criticised for overly focusing on medical problems a child born with Down’s could face. Campaigners said pregnant women were being "pushed towards terminations". Additionally, a mother revealed that a midwife told her that: “the purpose of the test is for terminations” when she said she would not end her pregnancy even if her baby tested positive.

The new leaflet is clearer, and it also states that children with Down’s syndrome "lead healthy and fulfilled lives" and added that many go on to work and live in their own accommodation.

However, there is still work to be done.

A mother who set up a support group for families in Wales after her child was born with Down’s syndrome said: "The support is not fair, it's totally biased towards termination.” She added there was no counselling offered to women who wish to continue their pregnancy after a positive diagnosis and it is only available to women who choose to have a termination.

CARE is concerned that ethical issues underlying NIPT and its application which are leading to terminations still need to be resolved, particularly with regard to giving accurate information to expectant parents and making sure health professionals are trained fully.  At the very least, work needs to be done to address negative and hurtful messages such as these which devalue and dehumanise those with Down’s and other syndromes.

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