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Another celebrity speaks up against Down’s syndrome screening

10 May 2016

Dominic Lawson with his daughter Domenica

In recent months, there has been considerable backlash against a proposed new test to detect Down's syndrome in children before birth.

This negative reaction is based primarily on the evidence that this new Non-Invasive Pre-natal Test (NIPT) will in all likelihood lead to more abortions of unborn babies with Down’s syndrome. The Don’t Screen Us Out campaign believe it would result in 92 more abortions per year.

Last week SPUC reported that Sally Phillips, star of the Bridget Jones Diaries films and the hit TV show Miranda, had expressed her grave concerns about the proposed new test. Mrs Phillips, whose eldest child has Down’s syndrome, suggested that pre-natal testing for disabilities should be abolished altogether, as it goes against the principles of an inclusive society.

Dominic Lawson

Now another high-profile parent has spoken out against the new test.

Dominic Lawson, a journalist for the Daily Mail, has used his column to liken the new test for Down's syndrome to "State-sponsored eugenics". The columnist, who is the son of former chancellor Nigel Lawson and the brother of Nigella Lawson, the celebrity TV chef, has a daughter with Down’s syndrome.

He writes that: "The Department of Health is about to approve a scheme designed to bring about a world in which people like my youngest daughter will cease to exist."

Domenica is deeply loved by her family

Nothing new

Mr Lawson goes on to explain that discriminatory attitudes towards people with Down’s syndrome are nothing new:

"I first got a sense of [these attitudes] after my daughter, Domenica, was born, almost 21 years ago on June 1, 1995 and I made public the fact that she had Down's syndrome.

"The immensely popular ex-NHS nurse and agony aunt Claire Rayner wrote an article criticising us for not undergoing pre-natal screening. She declared 'the Lawsons will not be paying the full price of their choice', and that society would have to bear the burden of the 'misery' of our daughter's life.

"Life Unworthy Of Life"

"But this was, I'm afraid, exactly the sort of argument used by the German academic Karl Binding, whose book Permitting The Destruction Of Life Unworthy Of Life was hugely influential in preparing the ground for the Nazis' later programme of compulsory euthanasia of the mentally disabled.

"Of course, the NHS is not proposing to terminate the disabled unborn without the full consent of the parents. But there is an insidious pressure to 'do the responsible thing'."

Pressure on parents

Mr Lawson also highlights that these concerns are shared by many parents, as was shown when the BBC ran a selection of comments on ante-natal screening from the public. Among the many that stand out is one from Heather in Livingstone:

"I was told that my daughter had Down's when I was about 12 weeks pregnant and every doctor and gynaecologist I saw tried to convince me that termination was the best option. I was still offered this at 26 weeks!

"One reason given to me by a cold-hearted consultant was that 'these babies put a strain on the NHS'."

Domenica Lawson meets the Queen and Prince Phillip in Hyde Park (2004)

National Screening Committee

As Mr Lawson points out, the National Screening Committee (which has approved the new test) does not exactly represent the views of people with Down’s syndrome, or their parents. No one on the committee has a child with Down's syndrome, nor was there any representative of parents who do.

Perhaps this is why the committee seems to have such a negative view of Down’s syndrome, as they are entirely unaware of the reality of living with a child with the condition.

Presumably they are also unaware of a paper published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2011, entitled Self-perceptions from people with Down's syndrome.

Happiness and wellbeing

Based on a survey of almost 300 with the condition, aged 12 and over, its authors concluded that "nearly 99 per cent of people with DS indicated that they were happy with their lives, 97 per cent liked who they were and 96 per cent liked how they look."

And indeed Mr Lawson can attest to the fact that his daughter is one of the happiest people he knows:

"It used to annoy me, when I told people I had a child with Down's, that I would get the response: 'Oh, they are so happy, aren't they?', as if remarking on a particular breed of dog.

Would the world be a better place without people like my daughter?

"But this is one generalisation which has some validity. Of course, Domenica has her moods, as we all do. But I am constantly energised by her own sheer enthusiasm for life, not to mention her unfailing ability to see the comic side of almost everything."

Mr Lawson ends by asking a poignant question:

"Would the world be a better place without people with Down's syndrome? Without people such as my daughter? What crimes have any of them committed for this question even to be asked, let alone agreed to, by the Government?"

Add your comment
Comments (5)
  • ou toppie

    10 May 2016, 8:35pm

    "One reason given to me by a cold-hearted consultant was that 'these babies put a strain on the NHS'." Well, may I say what that cold-hearted consultant (abortionist also maybe* ?) said was perfectly correct. In fact, does not every single patient “put a strain” on the NHS ? No patients – no need for the NHS.
    *certainly a pro-abortionist.

    But then, are not doctors and nurses in the NHS specifically employed to relieve pain and to try to cure and aid those who are sick and suffering ? Once upon a time, they took an oath to do just that and promised faithfully : “Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion”. Nowadays, that embarrassing part is omitted because they “cause” so many abortions, instead of saving the lives of these beautiful babies.

    That consultant clearly believed that only “ordinary” people deserve to be born – and to live. If you have an extra chromosome, not only are you far from “ordinary”, you also don’t meet his/her personal & private requirements, so you must die (Sorry and all that). For the consultant, the baby is a wasted life, an “oxygen thief” maybe ?

    This pernicious “strain on the NHS” seed has been sown so well, watered and nurtured so assiduously, with its growth monitored so scrupulously, that the principle of “useless lives” has been extended to shorten the final moments we spend on earth. Ask any honest Belgian or Netherlander (and soon Canadian). The consultants and many other “medical professionals” just can’t be bothered to go that little tiny bit extra to make comfortable those most hallowed final moments.

    Are they not heartless and unworthy of the honorific “Doctor” ?

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  • Anna brown

    10 May 2016, 11:08pm

    I completely agree. Why should a person with Downs syndrome be considered less worthy to live than a non DS person? The only value in screening might be to help prepare for their arrival. I admire Sally and Dominic for speaking up and widening the debate.

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  • John I Gerrard

    11 May 2016, 11:47am

    Any one with the least amount of Humanity could not agree to the tests. There is no reason why DS babies should be murdered.

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  • Mary Farmer

    11 May 2016, 8:48pm

    The world is indeed a much sadder place without the many countless beautiful people who have already lost their lives simply because they were diagnosed as having Down's Syndrome! This test is an abhorent use of science to pick out and then offer an end to the lives of even more beautiful people. There is no 'normal! What is defined as 'normal? all of us are unique, different, beautiful children of God, intended and given life by a God who loves us all.

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  • CJ Conrad

    14 May 2016, 2:25pm

    I worked with Special Education Classes for almost 27 years. It was a JOY and I miss my children!!!! I see them in town now and then and they remember me They will run up to give me a big hug and tell me how they love me. MAKES MY DAY!!!!!!!! I don't believe in abortion and realize the value of life especially in Special Children!!! They not only are special, but they pass their special personalities on to everyone they meet. Like all of us they have good and bad days but the ones I worked with seemed to have more good than the average. I love the picture of the Queen and Prince with the child in the park. Everyone looks so happy!! That says a "lot"!!!!!!

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