Professional medical bodies have told doctors and nurses in the UK that they should not pressure parents into having an abortion if their unborn baby is diagnosed with a chromosome syndrome.
In a joint statement, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; the Royal College of Midwives; and the Society and College of Radiographers advise healthcare workers how to behave when they are involved in carrying out prenatal tests for Down Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome and Patau’s Syndrome.
‘Some parents whose babies have been identified as having a higher chance of Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome, and who have decided to continue with the pregnancy, have reported being asked repeatedly if they want further diagnostic tests or an abortion,’ the statement notes.
‘They report having their decisions challenged and being pressured into changing their minds.
‘This should not happen.
‘Parents should have the scope to change their minds, but not be pressured into doing so – their decisions should be accepted and respected at all times.’
The statement comes ahead of the roll out of the controversial Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) on the NHS in England over the next few years.
NIPT is a blood test taken from a pregnant woman to assess the chance of the baby having Down Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome and Patau’s Syndrome.
People with Down Syndrome, their families and campaign groups have voiced concerns about NIPT after an investigation by The Sunday Times found that the number of babies born with Down Syndrome has fallen by 30 per cent in the small number of NHS hospitals that have introduced the new form of screening.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) welcomed the joint statement from the medical bodies, saying it is important that parents feel doctors are on their side.
“While aborting babies with Down Syndrome is never acceptable, this joint statement is to be welcomed in that it at least pushes back against the widespread presumption that parents should abort children shown to have a disability,” said a SPUC spokesperson.
“It is especially vital today that parents feel that doctors are on their side, as well as the side of their children, just at the moment when society is becoming more and more prejudiced against children with disabilities, as we see in the recent plotline in the ITV soap Emmerdale in which a couple abort their child after discovering it has Down Syndrome.
“It must be made clear that ALL children deserve love, not destruction.”
Right To Life UK also welcomed the statement as a “step in the right direction”.
“Sadly, the abortion rate for babies with these genetic conditions remains very high, but the insistence that information and advice surrounding prenatal testing for Down Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome and Patau’s Syndrome be ’non-directive’ is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Catherine Robinson, Right To Life UK’s spokesperson.
“As the guidelines admit and as we know independently, many women who receive a prenatal diagnosis that their baby has Down Syndrome are put under pressure to have an abortion.”
Ms Robinson said it is also welcome to see that they have outlined that properly trained health professionals should be providing the results from the tests to parents.
“The Nuffield Bioethics Council has highlighted serious issues with how some clinics and test providers are marketing and offering the tests,” she said.
“Evidence from overseas shows that inaccurate communication and overselling of the accuracy of NIPT tests has resulted in parents incorrectly believing that their baby had a disability and proceeding with an abortion based on the results of the tests. It is likely that the same is happening in the UK and lives are being lost to abortion because of the misleading marketing and delivery of results from these tests.
“In their consultation on this document, it is good to see that RCOG consulted a number of charities which are supportive of people with Down Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome and Patau’s Syndrome, as well as their parents. Hopefully, RCOG’s emphatic statement that mothers should not be pressured to abort following a diagnosis of these conditions, will be implemented in practice by medical professionals across the country.”
Picture: Professional healthcare workers. (NanoStockk).