Down Syndrome Now Detectable In 1st Trimester
A new test that allows the early detection of Down Syndrome is sparking new controversy in the abortion battle.
A first-trimester screening test can reliably identify fetuses likely to be born with Down syndrome, providing expectant women with that information much earlier in a pregnancy than current testing allows, according to a major study being released today. The eagerly awaited study of more than 38,000 U.S. women — the largest ever conducted — found that the screening method, which combines a blood test with an ultrasound exam, can pinpoint many fetuses with the common genetic disorder 11 weeks after conception. That allows women to decide sooner whether to undergo the riskier follow-up testing needed to confirm the diagnosis.
“This is a big deal for women. It’s going to have a big impact on care for women, not just in the United States but throughout the world,” said Fergal D. Malone of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, who led the study published in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Screening women before the second trimester allows those who might opt to terminate a pregnancy to make that decision when doctors say an abortion is safer and less traumatic. It also gives those who want to continue the pregnancy more time to prepare emotionally for their child’s condition, and provides earlier reassurance to those whose babies are healthy, avoiding weeks of anxiety, Malone and others said.
“This is huge,” said Catherine Y. Spong of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the $15 million eight-year study.
John Cole thinks this will accelerate an existing trend:
I remember hearing a physician (a pediatrician from California, if I remember correctly) discussing how few Down Syndrome patients he sees compared to 20-30 years ago, and explained that this, in large part could be explained by couples electively choosing to abort babies who had signs of severe disability. I have, of course, no way to verify the anecdotal evidence offered by the good doctor, but it is something to think about.
Hugh Hewitt is very, very concerned:
Given that this research will spark little in the way of controversy, there will be no rational basis for distinguishing the search for tests to aid sex-selection driven abortion or even abortion driven by factors relating to future performance of the child as an athlete or scholar.
Nick Gillespie, coming from a much more libertarian position, concurs:
I take it as an axiom that more choice and more knowledge is a good thing. But this sort of screening should (rightly) start a conversation about how increasingly better genetic and other tests will effect the sorts of children that are born: If you knew, for instance, that a fetus carries Down syndrome or some other condition that can’t be remedied in utero, would you abort? What about syndromes, ailments, etc., that are not as severe–what is the threshold individuals are willing to cross in pursuit of “normal” or better than normal offspring? What happens as these detection technologies become better and better, allowing women (and their partners) to know eye color, hair color, likely height, etc? Will/should those be factors that go into a decision to terminate a pregnancy? Something similar is already happening with pre-implantation screening of embryos created for IVF procedures. These are incredibly personal decisions–and they should remain with the individual, I think–but there are also profoundly social and deserve a wide and rich discussion.
I’ve never understood why this aspect of the abortion debate is so controversial. Leaving aside the religious-metaphysical position that life begins at conception and is inherently sacred, most people agree that aborting healthy fetuses is a bad thing even if they think it should nonetheless be a woman’s legal right to choose.
I understand why people who otherwise oppose abortion nonetheless would support it in the case of severe fetal health issues and that finding a bright line is then difficult. But if one believes that a woman should be allowed to abort a healthy fetus because the timing would interfere with their careers or otherwise be inconvenient, I see no moral reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to abort a fetus for reasons of gender, IQ, or any other attribute. Either killing a healthy fetus is immoral or it isn’t.