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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Born Free

Just been reading – as you do – a feature about ultrasound procedures on pregnant women. Now here’s a fairly disturbing thing: the amniocentesis, which is done to test for Downs Syndrome on unborn babies, appears to be causing a not insubstantial number of women to miscarry wanted foetuses:

‘In a paper published in Ultrasounds this week, retired Dr Hylton Meire not only argues there is no scientific evidence to prove the 20-week scan is worthwhile, he also casts doubt on the reliability of the principal method of testing for Down's Syndrome - the nuchal fold measurement.
These tests do not give a yes or no answer to whether a baby has Down's, but an indication of risk. Those deemed to have a higher possibility are offered an amniocentesis, where a needle is inserted into the womb to give a much more accurate analysis.
Every amniocentesis carries a small risk of miscarriage, so women who are not carrying a disabled foetus in the first place can end up losing a perfectly healthy baby.
Using various figures, Dr Meire, formerly of King's College Hospital, calculates that as many as 3,200 healthy babies are lost in this way each year.
For every 50 live births of children with Down's Syndrome prevented, he says 160 women miscarry non-affected babies.’

That’s pretty grim as medical findings go, particularly when you consider that the women being tested in this way are usually older, thanks to the higher risk of Downs in pregnancies past the age of 40. To lose a desired baby at the age of 45 must be quite a choker.

Moreover, I find it a bit strange that aborting Downs babies is something that is seen as acceptable as standard – I mean, I GET it, depressing though the logic is, but it’s very specific. I’m not a doctor so I wouldn’t know, but aren’t people with Downs capable of achieving a reasonable quality of life? I’m not saying it’s a bundle of laughs to parent a child with disabilities, and I would never judge anyone for taking the abortion option when offered, but shouldn’t a person due to be born with Downs have the option to at least give life a go, however inconvenient it might be for the parents?
If the medical establishment deems it perfectly acceptable to abort a late stage foetus if it has Downs Syndrome, does it condone it for other disabilities? If having a disability means your life is effectively not worth the living, doesn’t it then follow that a person who, say, loses the use of their legs at the age of 10 should kill themselves? Are other disabilities aborted as standard? Other perceived ‘defects’?
And if so, why is Carol Vorderman alive?
(That’s called lightening the mood)……


Assistive technology said...

Eugenics isn't usually a very happy subject.

You comment about how older women are subjected to this more and you're completely correct. I read somewhere that the majority of children with down's syndrome are born to women who are younger than 28. I'm willing to bet that it's because there isn't as much screening for them. Because 90% of women (according to most surveys) have an abortion when they hear that their child possibly has down's syndrome. Horribly grim stuff.

Jo said...

I'd be willing to bet, too, that women are not routinely told exactly just how POSSIBLE that 'possibility' is, and therefore find themselves making their abortion decisions without full and transparent ownership of the facts.

But hey, I'm in danger of delving even further into the murky waters of misogyny in medicine,'s a Friday afternoon....