Sally Phillips accuses NHS of endorsing eugenics by pressuring women to abort babies with Down’s syndrome

20 June 2019

Sally and Olly Phillips
Sally Phillips with her son Olly. 

 "If making money out of testing that leads in most cases to termination is not a form of eugenics then I do not know what is."

Actress Sally Phillips has called out the eugenic mindset prevalent within the NHS during an emotional presentation to prominent obstetricians.

Ms Phillips, who made the documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome in 2016, was part of a panel debating the ethics of non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPT) at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ 2019 conference. The Miranda and Bridget Jones star has a 14 year old son, Olly, with Down’s syndrome, and has been a vocal critic of the Government’s prental screening programme.

"Treated like toads"

She told the assembled medics that the current situation, where the attitudes of healthcare professionals towards the ‘screening’ process are intrinsically and subconsciously biased towards termination, was endorsing a form of eugenics.

Ms Phillips has previously said of the birth of her son: “ “When the doctor told me Ollie had Down’s syndrome, he said ‘I’m sorry’, and the nurse cried and that was 11 years ago. But, you hear those stories still today.” Now, she says, the eugenic thinking in the NHS means that people with Down’s syndrome are treated like a 'population of toads that must be managed'.

“Is it enough to target a population of people based on the opinions of another population of people perceiving the former’s lives to be crap?” she asked.

Exposing the horrific results of NIPT

The mother-of-three shared horrifying research showing that the birth rate of babies with Down’s syndrome has fallen by 30 per cent in hospitals which offer the NIPT test, against 9 per cent in hospitals that do not.

Ms Phillips also pointed out that the introduction of NIPT was being driven by a global industry, estimated to be worth £4.75billion by 2025.

She told the doctors: "If making money out of testing that leads in most cases to termination is not a form of eugenics then I do not know what is."

Making an impact

The actress ended by urging people, especially healthcare professionals to understand that people with Down’s syndrome like her son live happy and fulfilling lives.

Another parent to a child with the condition present at the conference agreed with her, tweeting: “Best #rcog2019 session so far. @sallyephillips giving passionate talk about #DS #Ethics of antenatal screening. Proud to be a father of a beautiful child with DS. Proud to be an obgyn in a society that cares and fights for babies with downs and aims to tell it right for the women.”

Her moving presentation clearly made an impact with other delegates, with one saying: “I've literally never thought about the fact that offering Down's #screening knowing that people will be encouraged to terminate actually is a form of eugenics & reduces the size of the Down's community, makes them more isolated & unsupported #choice #RCOG2019.”

Another said: “I agree strongly with her: If there is a clinical pathway for people wishing to terminate a pregnancy based on a high risk pregnancy for Down Syndrome, then there absolutely must be an equally supported pathway for those wishing to continue with their pregnancy.”

It seems obvious that parents who are given a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome or other genetic conditions should be given impartial information and supported to carry the pregnancy to term. But given that the RCOG is promoting the extreme abortion decriminalisation campaign, even this small recognition of the problems of screening is a welcome step forward.