The pro-life movement has been raising the ugly specter of abortions on babies with disabilities for years and now a new article in the Boston Globe confirms that the tests supposedly showing a baby having a mild or sever disability may be wrong.
Calling unborn babies defective if they are prenatally diagnosed with genetic conditions foreshadows a dangerous path toward eugenics. The problem of a society that is prone to abort babies at a rate of 60, 70 or even 80 percent for those diagnosed with Down Syndrome is bad enough. A disability is certainly no reason to have an abortion.
But the Globe article makes it clear that many parents are making decisions to have abortions on babies who are likely perfectly healthy.
Stacie Chapman’s heart skipped when she answered the phone at home and her doctor — rather than a nurse — was on the line. More worrisome was the doctor’s gentle tone as she asked, “Where are you?”
On that spring day in 2013, Dr. Jayme Sloan had bad news for Chapman, who was nearly three months pregnant. Her unborn child had tested positive for Edwards syndrome, a genetic condition associated with severe birth defects. If her baby — a boy, the screening test had shown — was born alive, he probably would not live long.
Sloan explained that the test — MaterniT21 PLUS — has a 99 percent detection rate. Though Sloan offered additional testing to confirm the result, a distraught Chapman said she wanted to terminate the pregnancy immediately.
What she — and the doctor — did not understand, Chapman’s medical records indicate, was that there was a good chance her screening result was wrong. There is, it turns out, a huge and crucial difference between a test that can detect a potential problem and one reliable enough to diagnose a life-threatening condition for certain. The screening test only does the first.
But a three-month examination by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found that companies are overselling the accuracy of their tests and doing little to educate expecting parents or their doctors about the significant risks of false alarms.
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Two recent industry-funded studies show that test results indicating a fetus is at high risk for a chromosomal condition can be a false alarm half of the time. And the rate of false alarms goes up the more rare the condition, such as Trisomy 13, which almost always causes death.
Now, evidence is building that some women are terminating pregnancies based on the screening tests alone.
As long as the tests are sold and conducted, parents will have abortions on babies who may otherwise be healthy. But the problem is not the tests alone. It’s the attitude behind seeing abortion as a solution for a supposedly “imperfect” baby.
As Mark Leach, an attorney who has taken on the pro-abortion attitude, explains:
“The impact of prenatal testing for Down syndrome is not morally problematic not only because abortion is not governmentally mandated following a prenatal diagnosis, but testing deals with fetuses, not ex utero human beings. Because there is no consensus on the moral status of the fetus, then it is incorrect to talk of eugenics when it comes to aborting a fetus with a genetic condition,” he says.
“What else, though, do the commentators and medical elite mean when they refer to defective fetuses? Of course, they mean the child that will be born if the pregnancy is allowed to continue. That child, who to them poses a burden or has a disease, is to be prevented through abortion. But defective is in the eye of the beholder,” Leach continues.
Again, this, too, is the lesson from last century’s eugenics. While it began with individuals termed “feeble-minded,” it also included those with physical disabilities, homosexuals, and, ultimately, Jews. The progress in civilized society that followed the Holocaust was due in part to the lesson being learned that once a group of people can be labeled as defective, then, so, too, can any other group, depending on who has the power to do the labeling. As a result, civilized nations became more inclusive of all individuals, regardless of race, disability, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, it seems we have an ingrained bent toward finding a reason to discriminate against others. As a result, continual education is required to tame that bent and provide for a civilized society. The recent comments on the advances in prenatal genetic testing demonstrate the continued need for these educational efforts.
If there is a role for governmental policy concerning prenatal genetic testing, it is to require this balance in information. Otherwise, we will revert to developing a eugenics common sense and being doomed to repeat the atrocities of history.