International

NHS-funded prenatal testing led to 30% more abortions of babies with Down syndrome

Down syndrome

A recent article by the London Times reports that, since the introduction of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), births of babies with Down Syndrome have fallen by 30%. The news that babies with Down syndrome are being eugenically targeted is horrifying enough. But even worse is what the Times fails to report — namely, that the current state of NIPT is non-diagnostic, meaning that many babies were likely aborted who had no genetic abnormalities

The Times claims the test is “much more accurate in detecting Down’s” [sic], but the current scientific state of these tests does not support this claim and does not reflect concerns raised by US professional and international bodies.

What’s more, these non-invasive tests, while useful as a first-tier screening, are not currently diagnostic because they routinely give too many false positives. Despite this, the test is often promoted as “99% accurate” without any qualifiers, as exemplified by the Times reporting. This means that many women are never referred for standard-of-care diagnostic tests.  

Recently, the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics recently said they could not find a single commercial lab in the US that adhered to guidelines for NIPT. And if the shocking UK rates are any indication, as well as information found in leaflets provided by NHS hospitals, not one “authoritative” source of information on the procedure seems to provide a complete picture of the tests, to include the vital information that they are non-diagnostic and plagued with false positives. 

READ: Study: Prenatal blood testing companies give parents ‘incomplete’ information

Many parents report feeling pressured to abort after a positive test. And indeed, the facts are bearing out the anecdotal evidence. The 26 NHS hospitals surveyed that offer NIPT reported 1 in 956 births with Down syndrome (0.11%) in 2013 to 1 in 1,368 (0.07%) in 2017, which represents a 30% decrease. 

Many have questioned the motive of the government’s push for NIPT, offered by companies that are for-profit. According to the Society for the Protection of the Unborn, actress Sally Phillips, a critic of the NHS-funded screening program and mother to a 15-year-old son with Down syndrome, has raised the issue of perverse incentives behind the screening trend. Phillips spoke at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ conference this year, and pointed out that the introduction of NIPT was being driven by a global industry, estimated to be worth £4.75billion by 2025. “Since for profit motives have entered the population screen arena it has proved tremendously difficult to hold them to account,” Phillips said.

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