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New, Simple Test For Down’s Syndrome On The Way

New, Simple Test For Down’s Syndrome On The Way

Scientists say that they have created a new test that will tell pregnant women whether they are carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome, without the risk or expense of previous tests.  They say that in less than two years, the test could appear in clinical practice.

Previous surgical methods have been used to diagnose Down’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder which leads to learning difficulties, heart defects, and a greater risk of dementia and leukemia later in the life, but these cause about 1 in 100 women to miscarry, a significant risk.  This would be non-invasive and risk-free, as well as inexpensive, making it available to far more pregnant women.

The question here, of course, is one that Care2 blogger Kristina Chew asked back in January: if a test is cheap and accessible, will Down’s Syndrome disappear?  Studies show that the proportion of women deciding to terminate a pregnancy after a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis are consistently high, somewhere between 90 and 95 percent, despite the fact that in recent years, people have reported feeling as though there is more social support for raising children with the disorder.

The ethical questions are significant.  The parents of disabled children tend to say that while their experience raising their child was challenging, their love for their child has far outweighed the difficulties.  At the same time, however, making sure that children with Down’s Syndrome, which can range from mild to severe symptoms, have a positive, supported life does require a significant commitment on the part of the parents, both emotional and financial. 

The stakes, therefore, are high.  If parents or a mother finds out that their unborn child has Down’s Syndrome, they may not feel equipped to undertake such a challenge.  At the same time, it flags obvious issues about what kind of human life is valuable, and whether it is moral to terminate a pregnancy because of a genetic disorder.  I do believe that it is the parents’ right to decide whether they want to raise a child with Down’s Syndrome, though, so this test is welcome progress.

The test won’t be available for a while, so there will be time to debate its ethics.  But it’s important that we raise these questions, and make sure that pregnant women and their partners are thinking about them, especially if they decide to take advantage of the new technologies.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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9:12PM PDT on Mar 13, 2011


11:09AM PST on Mar 12, 2011

Maire W. No, people with Down Syndrome children are not saints, none of us except Mother Theresa are & she's with God now.

I am a substitute teacher and spend time in many Exceptional Education classes. Like all children, Down Syndrome children can be sweet, loving, eager to please & very cooperative. Like all children, they can also be hard headed, stubborn and want their own way. That makes them human just like the rest of us.

Testing for birth defects & genetic conditions so parents can have the perfect child sounds too much like the experiments that took place in Nazi Germany's concentration camps under Hitler & his henchmen. Hitler was trying to produce perfect children also.

Remember, we are all created in God's image. That includes special needs children. God has commanded us to love each other as he has loved us. Aborting a child because of a birth defect or genetic condition is not loving the other person as we have been told to do.

In my opinion, abortion should only be done in cases of rape, incest and if carrying the baby to term will kill both the mother and the child, not if the baby has a birth defect or genetic condition.

9:08AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

Oh empress ginger, you sound so judgemental. the challenges you and your family face each day must be very difficult, at times. however, you and your partner made a choice. ALL parents should be given the same choice without having to be judged by society.
thank you for the article.

7:39AM PST on Mar 8, 2011


6:47AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

Marie W,

There is a test for Downs right now, it's the amniocentesis provided at 15-20 weeks, but carries a 1 in 100 risk for miscarriage.

5:28AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

In my view, Empress Ginger, any woman who chooses to have a child is 'doing it for herself'. Unless a woman is being forced to give birth rather than abort, she is doing so because she wants to be a mother and, for a variety of reasons, believes motherhood will enrich her life.

Using your argument, no woman should ever abort for any reason (even to save her own life or health, unless the fetus would also die along with her) - after all, she would then be putting her own needs ahead of her child's.

And I also disagree with you when you say that being disabled isn't 'unacceptable'. While people who are disabled should be respected as human beings, the disability itself is always unacceptable - which is why we refuse to simply accept it and fund research to try and eradicate disease, genetic disorders, and anything else which harms us medically.

5:23AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

Thanks for the info.

3:59AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

Great news now more mothers (And I use the term loosely) who can say hell no I'm too good to raise anything but a perfect child. Let's get a test for 'just c-average students' next...and 'no talent for sports'...
This issue makes me sick...I have three autistic kids...I know people are trying to find a prenatal test for that disorder so people could abort those babies too. Being disabled is not 'unaccpetable' and does not need a pre-screening's an idea..if you won't accept whatever baby mother nature blesses you with, then don't get pregnant, cause you are doing it for yourself not the child, and a real mother puts her child's needs and wants before her own.

1:58AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

There is no simple answer to this. Each person has to make their own choice about what they would do if they were carrying a child with Down Syndrome. You cannot make decisions for other people.

12:17AM PST on Mar 8, 2011

I just hope the test can tell at at earlier stage than they do now. The stage of fetal development where women terminate for Down's now is pretty far along, in my opinion.

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