A new controversial prenatal blood test for Down syndrome, developed by biotech company LifeCodexx, launched this month in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. It seems that we are in for another life protection scandal in Europe, and possibly for the return of mainstream eugenics to German-speaking Europe.
The new PrenaTest is “targeted exclusively toward women in their 12th week of pregnancy and beyond who are at an increased risk” of having a child with Down syndrome. Interestingly, the test doesn’t replace amniocentesis. LifeCodexx calls it “a complement to other prenatal diagnostic analysis methods.” But what this test really does is put unborn children with Down syndrome at increased risk for abortion.
And it won’t stop there. “In the near future, the PrenaTest will also be able to identify other chromosomal mutations such as trisomy 13 and 18,” said Dr. Michael Lutz, CEO of LifeCodexx. The goal seems to be a society free of “imperfections.”
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, vehemently criticized the test: “The issue here is artificial selection or eugenics, pure and simple. Is the infernal term ‘life unworthy of life’ going to become reality again?”
The Cardinal’s words and the complaints of others highlight the contradiction between the intentions behind the PrenaTest and the most fundamental human right to live one’s life. This test serves only one purpose – to abort children.
The German Down Syndrome Information Centre puts it well: “People with trisomy 21 will, in the long run, be the first people with a different genetic makeup to disappear from our society, and with the tacit approval of the majority.” The Bioethics Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference also spoke publicly of the ethical and social consequences at issue. They warn that with the widespread adoption of PrenaTest, the threshold “for the targeted annihilation of unwanted people will massively be reduced.”
The international federation of Down syndrome organisations has already objected to such testing at the European Court of Human Rights. The federation, comprised of 30 groups in 16 countries, said in June that the Court should “recognise the human condition and protect the right to life of people with Down’s syndrome and those handicapped.”
The history of eugenics in German-speaking Europe is well documented, and need not be recounted here. In that dark time, as now, the dignity of human life was not recognized or vigorously protected by law. We know that already around 90% of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome never leave their mother’s womb alive. This new test will only make it easier to choose abortion.
It is time to take serious measures to prohibit the test because this is only the beginning of society’s moral descent toward towards a new dimension of eugenics. But more than this particular test, what must be rejected is the idea that those who have physical, genetic or health issues do not deserve a chance at life. That is the real battle that must be won here in Europe, and around the world.