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Parents furious after senior doctors suggest NHS should work out the “cost effectiveness” of caring for children with Down’s syndrome

22 September 2016


Families protesting Parliament at the Don't Screen Us Out rally in April

Senior doctors caused outrage yesterday by suggesting that the costs of caring for children and adults with Down's syndrome should be a factor in deciding whether to offer pre-natal screening, the Daily Mail reports.

Parents of children with the condition have condemned the comments by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) as "putting a price on life". The RCOG raised the prospect in a consultation into a new test for Down's, which the NHS is set to approve. Campaigners fear that the new test - Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing - will lead to an increase in abortions, because 90% of babies with Down's syndrome are already aborted.

To keep costs down, the test is likely to be offered only to pregnant women considered at high risk of having a child with Down's syndrome. But The RCOG said: "If the decision [to restrict it to high-risk women] has been made primarily on cost grounds, then a more rigorous economic analysis has to be made that includes the lifetime costs of caring for children and adults with Down's syndrome. Such an economic analysis may (or may not) suggest that testing for all is cost-effective."

"In black and white"

Dr Elizabeth Corcoran, of the Down's Syndrome Research Foundation, said: "It has always been our fear that these types of calculations and economic analyses go on behind closed doors between policy makers, but here it is in black and white. It is utterly shocking that in this day and age someone can put a cost value on someone's life just because they have a disability. It is worse still that this comes from a respected Royal College that is a professional beacon for doctors."

"Eugenics" 

A number of parents expressed outrage at the comments. Paul Critchlow, 48, of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, said of his 24-year-old daughter Emily: "As a parent of a young person with Down's syndrome, I am appalled at the suggestion that the lifetime cost of caring for children and adults with Down's should be a factor in determining whether or not they should even be born." He said the Royal College had "no remit to intervene in this way", adding: "By suggesting that lifetime cost should be factored in, is frankly a step too far and leads us into the murky world of eugenics - who deserves to live and what that life should look like."

"Eliminating disabled people"

Responding to the story, SPUC's general secretary Paul Tully said: "It has long been clear that it is the Department of Health's policy to cut costs by screening out 'imperfect' babies. Parents are rightly outraged at the comments now that the RCOG is openly expressing these eugenic ideas. There is no therapeutic benefit to such screening programmes. They are driven by cost-saving and a desire to eliminate disabled people."

"It seems a particular irony that in the same week that the country has been welcoming back Paralympic athletes as heroes, the RCOG is coolly considering whether some disabled people might be too expensive to be allowed to live." Mr Tully continued. "The reaction from parents shows very eloquently that people with Down's syndrome and other disabilities live full and meaningful lives, and that you cannot put a monetary value on a person's life."

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