Fear of increase in abortion rates as new technique allows screening of thousands of genetic disorders
A new test will allow doctors to identify more than 3,500 genetic disorders in unborn babies, raising concerns that the procedure will result in more women opting for an abortion.
Scientists in the US have developed a revolutionary technique which will enable the entire genetic code of a baby in the womb to be predicted using just blood and saliva samples from both parents.
Current methods of pre-natal genetic screening are risky for both the mother and the child, and enable only a minority of defects to be identified, including Down’s syndrome, spina bifida and cystic fibrosis.
However, scientist Dr Jay Shendure from the University of Washington stated that the new test “opens up the possibility that we will be able to scan the whole genome (genetic code) of the foetus for more than 3,000 single-gene disorders through a single, non-invasive test.”
The test, which doctors believe will become readily available in time, has been criticised by pro-life campaigners, including Christian Concern, for forming the basis of an increase in abortion rates, since knowing that a child will have a serious birth defect is likely to result in more women choosing to terminate their pregnancy.
Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the Pro-Life Alliance, stated:
“One always hopes, vainly, that in utero testing will be for the benefit of the unborn child.
“But, whilst this new test may not itself be invasive, given our past track record, it is difficult to imagine that this new test will not lead to more abortions.”
Others warned: “The less tangible implication of incorporating this level of information into pre-natal decision-making raises many ethical questions that must be considered carefully within the scientific community and on a societal level.
“As in other areas of clinical genetics, our capacity to generate data is outstripping our ability to interpret it in ways that are useful to physicians and patients.”
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, said:
“Doctors in the UK have continued to sanction unnecessary abortions for defects such as a cleft palate and Down’s syndrome even though such conditions do not fulfil the criteria for a termination under the 1967 Abortion Act, which requires that the child will be born ‘seriously handicapped’.
“Whilst children with Down’s syndrome have special medical needs, they are nevertheless able to live full and rewarding lives. Despite this, nine out of ten women who are told that their child has Down’s syndrome will opt for a termination, resulting in three babies being aborted on the basis of the condition each day.
“Abortion is an extremely serious medical procedure which results in the loss of life and which carries serious mental health risks for the women involved.
“New methods of screening thousands of genetic disorders in unborn children will undoubtedly cause a surge in abortion rates, and should be resisted to protect the vulnerable and prevent further abuse of abortion laws by medical practitioners.”