“Totally unethical and discriminatory”: Mum blasts screening that has led to shocking 30% drop in Down’s syndrome birthrate

9 December 2019

baby downs syndrome getty
More women who find out through NIPT that their baby has Down's syndrome have abortions

Shocking new statistics have revealed that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has fallen by 30% in NHS hospitals which have introduced a new form of prenatal screening. 

The mother of a 19 year old woman with Down’s syndrome, Lynn Murray, has lashed out at the Government saying: “It is totally unethical and discriminatory for the Government to go any further with the roll-out of the tests given that data from NHS hospitals shows that these tests are leading to the reduction in the numbers of people from a specific community.”

Screening people out

Figures published in The Times covering the period from 2013 (before the test was introduced in some hospitals) to 2017, show that more women who have the new test go on to have abortions.

The 26 hospital trusts that provided non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) saw a change in the birthrate for babies with Down’s syndrome from 1 in 956 births (0.11%) in 2013 to 1 in 1,368 (0.07%) in 2017, which is 30% drop in birth rate.

NIPT was rolled out despite opposition from people with Down’s syndrome and their families, who said it would lead to babies with the condition being “screened out”.

Lynn Murray said: “The figures released today show that the fears of the Down’s syndrome community that rolling out these tests would lead to a large drop in the number of babies with Down’s syndrome were not unfounded.

She called on the Government to halt preparations to further roll-out the tests on the NHS immediately and to undertake an urgent inquiry into the impact that these tests are having on birth numbers of babies with Down’s syndrome.

“These figures show that providing the tests in NHS hospitals is leading to a large decrease in the births of babies with Down’s syndrome,” she went on.

Eugenics

Actress Sally Phillips, whose 15 year old son Olly has Down’s syndrome, and who has been a vocal critic of the Government’s prental screening programme welcomed the Times’ report, saying: “Since for profit motives have entered the population screen arena it has proved tremendously difficult to hold them to account.” In June, she told medics at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ 2019 conference that the introduction of NIPT was being driven by a global industry, estimated to be worth £4.75billion by 2025.

She said: "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."

Despite the outward acceptance of people with disabilities, and the efforts made to fully integrate them into society, it is clear that these eugenic attitudes are rife. Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said today that strangers branded her “disgusting” when she was pregnant with her daughter.

"The first thing I was offered at my first scan was a termination because people were like: 'You should not have children'" she said.

"We had a discussion [with the medical staff] about if I was trying for babies and that individual had some quite complicated views on disability - [an attitude of] we might breed."