Will the new DNA test for Down syndrome lead to more abortions? What happens when Doctors perfect a way to tell if a child will be born with Down syndrome, could it mean that more babies will be aborted? Pro-life advocates fear that the new DNA test which is being hailed “10 times more accurate than older tests” will lead to more abortions as parents seek out the “perfect” baby. Down syndrome or trisomy 21 is a genetic disorder characteristic by a partial or full third chromosome 21. Typically the syndrome is associated with delays in physical growth, characteristic facial features and some sort of intellectual disability from moderate to severe.
The new test involves DNA sequencing, looking at fetal cells in the mother’s DNA. According to the lead researcher Dr. Diana Bianchi of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, this new way is both more reliable and less invasive and it could cut down on the nearly 200,000 amniocentesis tests done every year. There are several companies that already market the new tests.
While the new test is less invasive and more accurate than older tests it has some in the medical field concerned. Michael Greene, OB-GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston worries that without proper perspective on the tests women will use the positive screening as a basis for terminating what he says would have actually been a normal pregnancy. Some worry that with these new tests more women will be prompted to terminate their pregnancies.
Advocates for people with Down syndrome also have worries associated with the new test. Namely that people with Down syndrome are artists, poets, athlete, they live full and happy lives, says Brian Skotko the co-director of the Down syndrome Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, he is concerned that if the tests become a routine offering then babies with Down syndrome will slowly start to disappear. A study done in 2007 suggested that 92 percent of all Down syndrome pregnancies ended in abortion, a staggering number that some worry will only get higher with the new DNA testing.
The new DNA testing would not be just for Down syndrome, other chromosomal imbalances like Edwards and Patau syndrome could also be tested for using this new method. Pro-life advocates fear that this type of genetic testing could lead to designer babies, with parents opting for abortion if the baby didn’t have certain genetic markers that the parents deemed worthy. Some states have begun ratifying laws that would prevent abortion based on genetic testing. South Dakota last week attempted a bill that would make it illegal to have an abortion because the baby had Down syndrome, the bill didn’t make it out of committee.
The new test can be offered to Mom’s between nine and 16 weeks, however, doctors caution that even a positive result on the test will require further exams including the possibility of amniocentesis to confirm Down syndrome. The latest study has this DNA test with more accurate results than older Down syndrome tests and this has some researchers concerned it will lead to more abortions.
By Rachel Woodruff