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Bioethics Council Nixes Sex-Selective Abortion but Oks for Down Syndrome

In a curious double standard, a UK-based bioethics council has given the green light for prenatal testing aimed at culling children with Down Syndrome, while simultaneously denouncing abortion based on the sex of the child.

Last week, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics released a report in which it recommends that non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) not be used to reveal the sex of an unborn child to avoid sex-selective abortion.

At the same time, the group advised that NIPT be made accessible to parents who want to find out whether their child “has a significant medical condition or impairment” so that they can make “autonomous, informed choices” regarding whether to terminate their child.

Specifically, the Council noted that women who are found through screening to have a high chance of having a fetus with Down syndrome overwhelmingly choose to abort their child.

“Approximately 1 in 10 women who get a high chance combined test result will be carrying a fetus with Down’s syndrome; 9 in 10 women will not,” the report states. It adds that the percentage of women who abort their children suspected to have Down syndrome is increasing to figures as high as 95 percent.

The glaring irony of the decision drew immediate criticism from defenders of the rights of persons with disabilities, who are mobilizing to make people aware of the fate of children diagnosed prenatally with genetic anomalies.

One project called Stop Discriminating Down, jointly sponsored by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation and DownPride, encourages citizens to sign a petition to end the double standard of selective abortions targeting children with Down Syndrome.

Although many denounce gendercide, “when it comes to Down syndrome, the logic tragically changes,” the group observes, and discriminating “against people with genetic variations” becomes an acceptable choice.

“The expansion of government sponsored prenatal screening and abortion stand in stark contradiction to the social progress made over the past 40 years towards an inclusive and equal society,” the group notes.

The petition urges governments and individuals to stop “systematic prenatal screening programs that target Down syndrome and deliberately encourage abortion as part of public health programs” and to ban genetic testing used “to discriminate against people on the basis of their genetic predisposition.”

While the Nuffield Council’s recommendations encourage the use of NIPT to screen for Down syndrome, Edwards syndrome, and Patau syndrome, it says that the test should not be used to determine the sex of a child or specific traits such as eye color, to avoid designer babies.

The Council acknowledges that making NIPT available “could be perceived as sending negative and hurtful messages about the value of people with the syndromes being tested for,” and yet it continues to approve the procedure in these cases.

Stop Discriminating Down respectfully disagrees.

“In a humane world aware of the need for acceptance and inclusion of differences, people with Down syndrome should not be discriminated against,” the group asserts.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter 

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