‘Just another choice’ – aborting for Down syndrome

By Kara Thomas

Reading the recent news surrounding the new non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) procedure, a simple blood test in the first trimester of pregnancy that can detect Down syndrome with 99% accuracy, I came across a 2013 news.com.au article titled “Is this the beginning of the end for Down syndrome?”

It included a statement by geneticist Professor Jane Halliday that stopped me in my tracks. In regard to prenatal testing, she called it “just another choice”.

This statement was in response to a claim by an organisation in New Zealand called Saving Down Syndrome, who believe this is a form of eugenics, a breeding out of “inferior” humans.

“Just another choice” is a powerful statement. It suggests that all choices are equal, but is this really true or should it matter what we choose and what the consequences are of those choices, for ourselves, for others and for the social fabric of our society?

People do indeed make all sorts of choices every day. Trivial choices like what we choose to eat for lunch, what we choose to wear, whether we choose to brush our teeth. All of which have little impact on another human being.

People can choose to care for or neglect their kids, to love or abuse their spouse, to obey the law or to break it. But they are not equally good. Such choices powerfully demonstrate how one person’s choice can lead to the harm or destruction of another.

Not all choices are equal, so it does matter what is being chosen!

While Halliday claims people make all kinds of choices in life and therefore prenatal testing is just another choice, this isn’t true. Terminating a human being because they happen to have a disability is not just. If this is permissible, why not allow aborting babies because they are the wrong gender?

Given NIPT can accurately predict gender as well as Down syndrome, Professor Halliday would be unlikely to share the concerns of Queensland fertility doctor and gynaecologist Dr David Molloy who said there was a “real ethical risk” that expectant parents who are given the NIPT procedure might terminate their unborn children if they were not happy with the gender.

Gender selection abortion and infanticide is due to many cultures believing women are “inferior” to men.

The choice to terminate the unborn who happen to be female has resulted in the world missing 200 million women, close to 1,500 of them from Australia according to a 2015 SBS investigation.

Pre-natal testing is resulting in unborn children who happen to have Down syndrome being screened out of existence because they are believed to be, while many may not say it, “inferior” to able people. How many people with Down syndrome is the world missing?

Is eliminating people with Down syndrome through prenatal testing a moral good that will somehow make the world a better place by decreasing the perceived work and expense of those who are able?

The world is not better by eliminating diversity, by reducing the need to serve others, or by being obsessed with our own personal wants. Choices have consequences and it matters how we live and what choices we make individually and collectively.

A world without Down syndrome would not be a better or more moral world. History clearly shows that when cultures devalue any group of people, based on gender, race, religion or disability, the result is destruction, not liberation.

Kara Thomas is Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy at Cherish Life Queensland.