A New Threat to Human Dignity — Down’s Syndrome Revisited

A New Threat to Human Dignity — Down’s Syndrome Revisited

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
November 11, 2005

The New England Journal of Medicine reported Thursday that doctors have developed a test that will screen for Down’s syndrome as early as the first trimester of pregnancy.

The Washington Post and The New York Times also reported the story. According to the Post, A first-trimester screening test can reliably identify fetuses likely to be born with Down syndrome, providing expectant women with that information much earlier in a pregnancy than current testing allows, according to a major study being released today.

Further: “This is a big deal for women. It’s going to have a big impact on care for women, not just in the United States but throughout the world,” said Fergal D. Malone of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, who led the study published in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Screening women before the second trimester allows those who might opt to terminate a pregnancy to make that decision when doctors say an abortion is safer and less traumatic. It also gives those who want to continue the pregnancy more time to prepare emotionally for their child’s condition, and provides earlier reassurance to those whose babies are healthy, avoiding weeks of anxiety, Malone and others said.

There is the real agenda — many parents choose to abort the child before it can be born. There are actually fewer and fewer babies born with Down’s syndrome in the United States, with a reduction of up to 80-90% in some regions.

Clearly, our culture is growing comfortable with the idea that we can simply reject babies we see as sub-par or unacceptable.

Consider how the Post’s article ends: Randall K. O’Bannon of the National Right to Life Committee said in an e-mail, “These tests appear to be used only to select babies for abortion, including as many as 5 percent who may not even have Down’s Syndrome. . . . Killing a child with Down’s Syndrome is not the solution to Down’s Syndrome.” Malone and others, however, said they doubted the approach would result in more abortions. “Most women are probably going to make the same decision now as before. If she decides to terminate the pregnancy, this just makes it safer and maximizes her privacy and confidentiality,” Malone said.

Safer for whom? Surely not for the baby. From the Times’s coverage: The study’s findings suggest that parents will have a better opportunity to seek an abortion earlier in gestation, Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, a Baylor College obstetrics and gynecology professor, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. “Pregnancy terminations are earlier, more private and far safer than in the second trimester,” Dr. Simpson said. The maternal death rate for first-trimester abortions is 1.1 per 100,000 abortions, compared with 7 to 10 per 100,000 in the second trimester, Dr. Simpson wrote.

SEE ALSO: My article on a related development, “A ‘Duty to Abort?’ You Have Been Warned,” October 18, 2005. “A Duty to Abort?“,” The Albert Mohler Program, October 20, 2005.

A NOTE ON SPELLING:  The syndrome is spelled two different ways in the literature, with The New England Journal of Medicine using “Down’s syndrome” and the newspapers using “Down syndrome.”  Both spellings are in wide use.  The syndrome was named for John Langdon-Down, a British physician who sought to describe the disease in the late 19th century.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).