Fetal Abnormalities

Fetal Abnormalities

Iceland is eliminating Down Syndrome by abortion

The rate of selective abortions has increased with the ability to learn more about the child in the womb. The development of indepth prenatal testing and genetic counseling has created a presumption that parents will choose to abort any child with an abnormality.

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These individual choices to terminate a pregnancy cannot be divorced from the surrounding culture – a culture that includes unique and differently abled persons. Individuals are impacted by the culture they are in, and culture is impacted by the choices individuals make. The impact of this choice  has practical ramifications from reducing the number of persons with these conditions as well as broader ramifications in terms of how we value those who struggle with their health, who are dependent, or who are different.

Facilitating, and even encouraging, abortion due to fetal abnormalities promotes a view that these lives will necessarily be harder and of lesser quality, or that these persons are a burden to those around them. It lends itself to an ableist lens where we value only able-bodied, healthy, independent lives. This stigma, which begins at the way we treat a prenatal diagnosis, has a negative impact on the wellbeing and self-esteem of those living with Down syndrome and other conditions.

In Canada today, there are fewer born persons with disabilities or genetic conditions due to the prevalence of prenatal testing and abortion. This is acknowledged by many Canadian authorities, including the Canadian Institute for Health Information which explains the decline of the rate of those with Down syndrome as being due to various factors including “the availability and use of prenatal screening and diagnosis, and the rate of pregnancy termination.” 1

We need remember that children with disabilities or genetic condition are not social liabilities.

Do we view the existence of someone with a disability or genetic condition as something to mourn, or as a diversity to be treasured?

Aborting those who are different, We Need A Law

Raising a child with a disability or genetic condition, as with raising any child, has its challenges. But it also has real joys and rewards. We often have preconceived notions of what the ideal life looks like, including the idea that we want “perfect” or “normal” children. This can come from negative stereotypes, ignorance, or prejudices towards those who live with disabilities or genetic conditions.

Abortion due to fetal abnormality is harmful to a society that wants to value those who are different. It shuts the door on a life full of endless possibility as evidenced by the stories of parents who raise differently-abled children. But there is another fundamental concern: abortion is the ending of a human being’s life. This is not to be mistaken with a passive letting a child die or refusing a treatment. Rather, it is the intentional ending of that child’s life at a time chosen by the parent.

We need legislation that will protect the lives of those who are differently abled and encourage diversity in our society.

1 Rockman-Greenberg, C., Avard, D., Hanvey, L., & Fitzpatrick, J. (2014). Section 5: Congenital anomalies. In In The Health of Canada’s Children and Youth: A CICH Profile. Retrieved from https://cichprofile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2.5-congenitalanomalies-en.pdf.

This is also acknowledged by the Public Health Agency of Canada. (2013). Congenital Anomalies in Canada 2013: A Perinatal Health Surveillance Report. Ottawa: “Prenatal screening has advanced in both accuracy and early detection such that it has had a significant impact on the [Down syndrome] live birth prevalence across all maternal ages, worldwide.”

And in Navaneelan, T., Pearson, C., & Janz, T. (2016). Deaths from congenital anomalies in Canada, 1974 to 2012. In Health at a Glance. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2016001/article/14649-eng.htm which likewise offers an explanation for the decline in infant deaths as being influenced by the rate of “termination of pregnancies affected by major anomalies.

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