PM quizzed over new Down's syndrome screening test
5 May 2016
Mr Cameron admitted that there are "moral and ethical issues that need to be considered"
David Cameron has responded to campaigners' concerns over a new pre-natal test for Down's syndrome by admitting that "ethical issues" must be taken into account.
The new screening technique which has been proposed would involve less risk of miscarriage – which some have calculated could save perhaps 25 unborn lives per year – but would also mean many more cases of Down’s syndrome would be diagnosed. Campaigners believe it could lead to an extra 92 abortions per year, given that over 90% of all unborn children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in the womb are already aborted.
PM meets parents
The issue was raised by Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, during the weekly session for Prime Minister's Questions, who also asked the prime minister to meet with representatives from a Down’s Syndrome Support Group in his constituency. In his response, Mr Cameron revealed that he met with parents of children with Down's syndrome last Friday, and that they raised the same issue with him.
There has been increasing pressure on the Secretary of State for Health in recent weeks from parents concerned that children like theirs, with Down's syndrome, will simply be screened out.
Don't Screen Us Out rally
Two weeks ago, parents and campaigners held a rally outside the Houses of Parliament, organised by the Don't Screen Us Out campaign. A video of Heidi Crowther, a 20-year-old girl with Down's syndrome, speaking at the rally has since gone viral.
Hansard recorded the full exchange, which you can also see in the video above:
"The Department of Health is looking to introduce a cell-free DNA test for pregnant women in order to reduce the number of miscarriages, but this will have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of abortions for those with Down’s syndrome.
"I know that nobody in this House cares more about the protection and safety of those with special needs, so will the Prime Minister meet me and representatives of the East Lancashire Down’s Syndrome Support Group so that we can look at ways of protecting those with Down’s syndrome and ensuring that they will not be simply screened out?"
The Prime Minister:
"My hon. friend raises a very important issue. A local group of Down’s syndrome parents came to my constituency surgery on Friday and made all these arguments to me. As a constituency MP, I am taking this up with the Department of Health to make sure that all the right processes are followed.
"There are moral and ethical issues that need to be considered in these cases, but on the other hand we also have to respect the view that women want to have screening and testing about the health of their children, and we should be in favour of maximum transparency, on the basis that this is optional rather than mandatory, but it is part of routine care.
"So the Health Secretary is going to have to find a way through this, but, above all, we must make sure we go about it in the right way."