Sunday 23 January 2011

DNA blood test for Down's sends out lethal message to the disabled

Scientists in Hong Kong are reported to have developed a blood test for Down's syndrome, using DNA. Janet Thomas of No Less Human, a group within SPUC representing disabled people, gave me her response to the news:
"This article refers to the underlying assumption by the medical profession and the national pre-natal testing programme that it is acceptable to kill on the grounds of disability. The most common disability sought and detected is that of Down’s syndrome (or more properly Trisomy 21). It was noted in an article in the BMJ many years ago that '..studies show that detecting and eliminating two babies with Down’s syndrome by screening programmes costs one ‘normal’ baby who succumbs as a result of the programme. The loss of one ‘normal’ baby is thought to be a price worth paying.' (Venn-Treloar, J. “Nuchal Translucency – screening without consent” British Medical Journal 12 September 1998)

This new blood test only seeks to ensure that as few ‘normal’ babies are lost in the attempt to detect and eliminate all Down’s syndrome babies. However, the vast majority of pre-natal tests aim to detect disabled babies with the aim of aborting them and this so–called 'accurate new DNA test' is specifically aimed at Down’s syndrome babies.

Economic arguments are sometimes presented to women, to justify pre-natal detection of disability. These claim that as disabled people 'cost society a lot of money' it is preferable to detect disabled babies in the womb. They can then be aborted and save the country the money it would have spent in caring for them. (“Hidden cost of testing for Down’s” by Dr. Kieran Sweeney. The Times 5 April 1994; White Page, C. “Screening for Fragile X is cost effective and accurate.” British Medical Journal 26 July 1997; “Reducing the Risk: Safer Pregnancy and Childbirth. HMSO. London. 1977)

Pre-natal testing sends out a strong message to adult disabled people that society would very much rather that they did not exist.

No Less Human campaigns to protect the most vulnerable of human beings from harm because it holds as the foundational principle of a civilised society that every human being has the right to life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

Pre-natal testing in order to eliminate those found to have a disability, in this case Down’s syndrome, can never be ethical, because it involves denying to disabled babies their infinite human worth, and their absolute right to life."
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