2 April 2013
New Zealand: Do new prenatal tests signal the end of Down syndrome?
From New Zealand Medical Journal.
Since 2010, prenatal screening for Down syndrome (DS) has been offered to all pregnant women in New Zealand. The programme has been criticised by several groups, on claims that screening is eugenic and discriminatory towards those with DS.
Recently, tests have been developed that may one day prove more efficient than current screening methods. They are an example of ‘Non-Invasive Prenatal Diagnosis’ (NIPD), which enables diagnosis earlier in pregnancy with less risk of complications. If the current programme raises objections, what threats does this new and seemingly more attractive technology pose to the DS community?
The authors argue that NIPD is simply an extension of current screening methods, raising similar ethical concerns. Presently, the programme shows little evidence of ‘eugenics’, demonstrated by moderate uptake rates and varying attitudes towards disability.
The authors do not regard the offer of screening to be threatening, as women choose whether or not to be screened depending on their own personal circumstances. One day, prenatal testing may result in fewer people with DS; but past and present trends indicate these individuals will continue to be supported, irrespective of ‘group size’. Care and respect for the disabled will remain essential, regardless of a woman’s decision over her pregnancy.
Testing times: do new prenatal tests signal the end of Down syndrome? Cole R, Jones G. New Zealand Medical Journal. 2013 Mar 1;126(1370):96-102.