The question of pre-natal tests for Down syndrome


Words by Amelia van der Rijt

We all remember the story of baby Gammy, born with Down syndrome to a surrogate mother and then allegedly abandoned by his Australian parents.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition occurring when a child is born with an extra chromosome. It almost always occurs randomly and to all kinds of people across the globe. Prenatal screening for Down syndrome is currently offered to most expectant mothers. According to Down syndrome Australia, there are currently over 13,000 people living with Down syndrome in the country.

Whilst those with the disability can lead a mostly normal life, it is often associated with a number of other health issues, including overweight tendencies, lowered immunity, and shorter life expectancy. Furthermore, supporting those with Down syndrome comes at a cost, and not every parent has the financial resources or ability to care for a child with a disability.

Over 90% of expectant parents currently choose to terminate a pregnancy likely to result in a child having Down syndrome. But is this decision justified?

According to Richard Dawkins, famous for his claim that some rapes are ‘worse’ than others, Down syndrome is definitely a valid reason to terminate a pregnancy. Dawkins goes as far to say that it would be immoral not to abort in this circumstance. But not everyone agrees.

“All people have faults,” says Annabelle, “choosing to terminate pregnancy because your child may have a more obvious disability is appalling. I think prenatal screening is appropriate to an extent. It could benefit parents, so they’re more prepared and aware that they may have to raise a child with this disability. But for screening tests to be the deciding factor for abortion is different.”

“I think parents should be allowed to test for Down syndrome. We have the technology and even though it may be the reason mothers have an abortion, I think the testing remains okay.” explained Johanna.

‘You have to consider the position you’re in, though’, added Brittany. ‘Some people may not have the money, or the ability, or the time to look after a child with Down syndrome’.

Ultimately however, the decision is a personal one and until we are actually faced with the situation, we cannot know what we would actually do.