Bioethics News

Canadian bioethicist questions value of Down syndrome detection

Do we really need ever-more accurate tests to detect Down syndrome in unborn children? This is the question posed by Canadian bioethicist Chris Kaposy in the Impact Ethics blog. He questions “a ‘corporate arms race’ to develop prenatal tests for Down syndrome that are accurate and less invasive, cheaper, easier to administer, and that can be administered earlier in pregnancy than previous methods of testing.” Most of the time – some estimates are as high as 90% — women who test positive undergo an abortion.

“The larger ethical question,” he writes, “is whether this pursuit of profit is good for people who have Down syndrome or even good for the rest of us.”

Recent research by Dr Brian Skotko at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that most Down syndrome people and their families are happy with their lives. “The arms race to develop these tests is not being driven by the needs of people with Down syndrome or the needs of their families,” he says. In fact, says Dr Kaposy,

“…  the social utility of these tests is incommensurate with the effort needed to create them. In contrast to the scientist who devotes her life to the treatment of cancer, … devotion to create a test that helps parents to avoid the birth of people who tend to enjoy their lives seems somehow less ambitious, or off the mark.”

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