Down Syndrome DNA Test Will Lead to More Abortions?

down syndrome

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.
down syndrom
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.
down syndrome
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

The Boston Globe
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33 Responses to "Down Syndrome DNA Test Will Lead to More Abortions?"

    • Fledgling Ethicist   March 2, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Thank you for sharing this – while I don’t necessarily share the positions of this article, it does articulate criminally underrepresented perspectives, and is a fascinating and worthwhile read.

  1. Paul   March 1, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    This quote was just hilarious to me:

    “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”

    I never thought there were people who actually advocated for the disease and not just the people who have it.

  2. Arnastu   March 1, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Having Downs isn’t some kind of traditional subculture that needs to be preserved. Once you’re alive you make do with what you’ve got, but there’s no value in preserving and maintaining a population of Downsians just out of a sort of loyalty to the ones alive today.

    It is not asking for a “perfect” baby to ask for a child without Downs. It profoundly changes everything. If it was purely voluntary, a choice made at the instant before conception, nobody would ever choose to have a Downs baby. However much you love your Downs son or sister, you would never choose that for your child.

  3. r baxter   March 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    It should be a crime that no one edits anymore.
    “looking at fetal cells in the mother’s DNA” – jibberish

  4. kate   March 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    How about the opposite? If the test is more accurate, then there is likely to be fewer false positives and also fewer unnecessary amniocentesis tests, which carry inherent risks.

  5. Donald Berrian   March 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    The older methods had a higher probability of accidentally aborting a healthy baby than identifying an unhealthy one so the answer to the question in the title is NO.

  6. TPaign   March 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Would conservatives support a bill which would outlaw an abortion if a genetic test revealed that the fetus is gay?

  7. Mat   March 1, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Keep abortion legal! We need to worry more about uneducated losers having children. That’s what creates crime! Unwanted children. How bout give every kid under 13 rubbers.

  8. WP Craig   March 1, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Which are more defective: fetuses with Down syndrome or the adults who kill them?

  9. Nikato Muirhead   March 1, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Let me begin by saying that i am against abortion. If it becomes possible to detect significant serious health risks and we must prevent childbirth as a result then this would be a reasonable exception. Fortunately, at the same time that we are developing ways to better detect serious childbirth defects, we have also found ways to avoid them. The FDA is now looking at at technology call 3-parent conception where mitochondrial diseases can be eliminated. This technology should be made available to everyone. This would in fact eliminate the need for birth-defect related abortions.

  10. Of Course   March 1, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Yes it will.

  11. Cate   March 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Life is not considered sacred anymore, and so for any life – that is considered useless – it can be argued, that ‘we’ should put them out of their misery. Some ‘ethicists’ argue that post-birth abortion should be allowed. It makes sense if you think abortion is ok up until birth. How do you ‘pro choicers’ argue against post-birth abortion? Why not?

    • Fledgling Ethicist   March 1, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      The issue is not whether or not the child is useless, or even whether said child has a right to exist. The woman has the right to determine what goes on in her own body, and this trumps the consideration of the child’s right to life. This right ends once she gives birth – the child is no longer infringing on her rights (however innocently), and therefore the mother has no right to kill the child.

      Conceived this way, abortion can be justified without justifying infanticide.

      • WP Craig   March 1, 2014 at 8:58 pm

        Quite fledgling. Somehow, were it your life in the balance, I think you would arrive at a non-homicidal solution.

        • Octavion Mercury   March 1, 2014 at 9:17 pm

          Absolute nonsense.

        • Fledgling Ethicist   March 2, 2014 at 2:58 pm

          My position is not homicidal, and it does not change regardless of whether or not myself or someone I care for is in the balance.

          I believe human beings have an inalienable right to their own bodies. No one can do something to my body that I do not want them to do, and I cannot forfeit or suspend this right in any sort of agreement or contract. I can forfeit my right to freedom of movement by breaking the law and being sentenced to jail; perhaps I can even forfeit my right to life if I commit a capital offence (although I actually think that capital punishment is immoral, harmful, and without any benefit or redeeming value). However, despite all of this, my body is mine and mine alone to control.

          Forcing the state of pregnancy on to someone is a violation of this right. Even though the unborn child is innocent, without the consent of the mother, this child nonetheless is transgressing against the mother’s right to her own body, something no amount of innocence can nullify.

          It isn’t a question of whether or not a mother has license to kill, but a question of whether or not a mother has the right to her own body.

  12. Proud DS Mom   March 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Rationalist you sound terribly ignorant about life and about people and especially about Down syndrome. If people with DS are “picked on, pitied and cast out” by society that is more a reflection on everything that is wrong with society, not what’s wrong with them. We, as family members and advocates for people with DS are doing what we can to change that. People with DS are valued, loving and beloved, contributing members of society.

  13. threenorns   March 1, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    It should be a crime to force a woman to have a baby she absolutely does not want. The number one duty of a patent is to provide the child with the best start in life possible and that does not mean potentially devastating genetic problems.

    I read the comments ppl say about downs syndrome kids- has nobody else noticed that they sound like they’re talking about rather clever pets?

  14. Ltlantnee   March 1, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    So what. Is this news? Move on …

  15. Midnight   March 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    To have or not have a child is the parent’s decision, and especially the mother’s as she more than likely will be the one who is the primary caregiver. Life is stressful, and raising a child with health issues is extremely stressful. Personally I agree with Rationalist for the most part, except I don’t agree that a child with Down syndrome will never be able to feel happy or that he or she will necessarily need constant care.

    •   March 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Agree. Ain’t nobody’s business but- your own.

    • Andrei bilderburger   March 1, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      If you don’t think a DS baby needs constant, lifelong care, you obviously have never met anyone with DS or a family with a DS kid. And DS is far far easier on the child (and parents) than any of the other chromosomal disorders!

  16. Fairness   March 1, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    It’s inappropriate to compare a major birth defect such as Down’s to simply being imperfect, or to equate avoiding a significant handicap to shallowly wanting a perfect designer baby. Raising a disabled child is a far bigger impact to all aspects of life than raising one who is shorter than your dream child or who has the wrong number of toes. Respect families (Downs in one child dramatically changes the lives of his/her siblings as well as the parents’) who can and do take on the challenge, but understand that not everyone can. Also, it is entirely possible that better tests will lead to fewer abortions since some children who may be aborted today on the probability of having Down’s will be spared when the more accurate test shows that they do not.

  17. Alan Miner   March 1, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Abortion is a terrible. So is birthing a child who will never be able to take care of him or herself. Some DS kids do fine in life. Others live lives filled with sorrow. Just like the rest of us. DS children who are ostracized from society probably have parents who can’t cope….and that’s the essence of the problem. Some parents can cope with everything, others can’t cope with anything. Not every parent has Sarah Palin’s resources.

  18. alan   March 1, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    There has always been a DNA test for Down Syndrome. It is literally the easiest thing to test for: you just line up the chromosomes under a microscope and count them. Even a high school student can do it.

  19. Natalie Leavenworth   March 1, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Yes, of course, abortions should be a choice.

  20. zampano   March 1, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    a. Amniotic fluid testing already has. b. These comments are sad. We are devolving. How low-minded these people sound. You clad yourself in technology which is barely out of the dark ages and by some bizarre stretch of logic have life figured out to the point of treating it like replacement cpu in your phone? It’s comical as much as it is sad.

  21. LB@   March 1, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    My daughter was tested during her pregnancy and it came up positive. She now has a healthy and normal baby girl.

  22. charles116   March 1, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    It’s the parent’s choice.
    Let everyone just mind their own business already.

  23. Carlos del Gato   March 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    The United States government does NOT considered a fetus a human being; you CANNOT get a social security number until a live birth. So why be concerned if the parent(s) wish to abort a pregnancy? And no overt religious stuff as that is a personal belief not a fact.

    • JoeyJoey   March 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Wrong about it being a human being: it all depends on who kills it. Mom can kill it and it’s ok. If someone else accidentally kills it, she goes to jail. See Many people and laws are confused about this in America. Sometimes the personal rights of the unborn are terribly inconvenient for those ‘responsible’ for them.

  24. Rationalist.   March 1, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Who cares? Seriously, the world is already EXTREMELY over populated, life stresses are at Great Depression levels, and is it really fair to give birth to the child so he/she will be picked on, pitied, cast out from society? Is that the life you’d want to give to a child? I feel for the parents, I feel for the down syndrome sufferers, I do. But I don’t see how aborting a child who will never be able to feel happy on his or her own, who will need constant care, who would feel like a burden, is a bad thing.


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