A fine post by Paul Tuns. Especially this:
The problem is that pregnant women are routinely tested to see if their child has a genetic anomaly for which there is no treatment. Doctors, who can’t stand to do nothing, offer what they can: abortion to get rid of the “problem”. This leads to a vicious cycle; I’ve talked to doctors who are concerned that with fewer Down Syndrome children being born, there is less impetus to do the type of research which could enrich the lives of those who survive the womb for nine months because there isn’t enough demand. Future lack of resources to help parents of Down Syndrome children will only encourage more parents to abort such children in the future.
Testing to see if the child has some “problem” for which there’s no treatment is one of those “illusion of technique” traps – better living through science (except of course for those whose lives are cut short in the name of perfection). Expecting mothers, not all of whom are geneticists, are often made to take those tests as a matter of routine because that’s just what’s expected, especially if you’re an older expecting mother. But those tests that determine (that’s assuming the tests are accurate, not an altogether water-tight assumption) whether a fetus has a condition for which there is no treatment are not medicine.
Andrea adds: This breaks my heart.
The Washington Post cites Skotko’s research indicating that 92 percent of women who learn they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome choose to abort the pregnancy. That is more than nine out of ten.
Does anyone know when it comes to ultrasounds then, what is the point? Because I’ve always said I would not have one, period. But are there any conditions that can be viewed in utero for which abortion is not the answer? (As in, if you see something in the fetus early there is a bona fide treatment?)
Rebecca adds: “Does anyone know when it comes to ultrasounds then, what is the point? Because I’ve always said I would not have one, period. But are there any conditions that can be viewed in utero for which abortion is not the answer? (As in, if you see something in the fetus early there is a bona fide treatment?)”
I maintain that there is good reason to have these tests – maternal blood screening and ultrasound, which are non-invasive for the baby – even for people who would not consider abortion no matter what the result. The major downside is false positives for problems, but a good obstetrician or radiologist will explain what are the odds of a false positive (and negative) to women being tested. There are good medical reasons for finding out about problems in utero. In some cases, babies can have surgery prior to being born, which can repair some otherwise fatal defects. In others, when parents and doctors are aware of major problems, they can do a C-section and transfer the baby to immediate surgery; I know a healthy teenager who had a severely malformed abdominal wall, and since it was detected in utero, this is what happened. If he’d gone through a vaginal birth, or not been taken immediately into a prepared operating theatre, he would likely be dead. Down Syndrome in particular causes a higher risk of heart defects that can prove fatal at or shortly after birth, so it’s good to know if your child has this problem, so you can ensure optimal care at delivery.
The other big reason in my opinion is to prepare yourself psychologically. Sarah Palin talked about being overjoyed when her son was born; she’d already come to terms with his medical condition, so the birth was a joyful occasion, not mixed with grief as it would be it were also the occasion on which you first learned your childhood had a lifelong disability for the family to cope with. When major surgery is needed right after birth, it’s a lot easier on the family if it’s not a surprise, if they know what to expect and have made arrangements to help them all get through it. Coping with a new baby is stressful and exhausting even when everything is perfect; coping with major surgery for your newborn would be a excruciating. If that could be mitigated by some knowledge in advance of what the risks are and what’s likely to happen, I’m all in favour.
I fully support the choice to refuse prenatal testing if that’s what the mother wants. But diagnostics themselves are not the problem, it is the mentality of the people within the system and how they use diagnostics. These tools can certainly be used to mark some unborn children as unworthy of life. But they can also be used to ensure best outcomes and the smoothest transitions even for babies with severe problems. There is no inherent contradiction between being pro-life and being in favour of prenatal testing.
(I don’t discuss amnio because that, unlike maternal blood screening and ultrasound, does present a risk to the baby, with between .5% and 2% of amnios causing miscarriage, depending on when, how and where it’s done. That’s a whole separate set of ethical issues.)
Further,”as commenters point out, there are other reasons that don’t involve defects or disease. The reality of medicine today is that, while OBs rely less and less on manual palpation to evaluate pregnancies, it is not unheard of for a twin’s existence to go unnoticed until the birth.
Apart from the shock and logistics for the parents, this is medically
risky: for multiple births, it’s desirable to have extra supplies and attendants, as well as the ability to do an emergency C-section. And less critically, ultrasound can be a great way of making a pregnancy seem real, and start a sort of proto-bonding. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t teared up the first time they saw their baby on a scan, even if it’s still at the “peanut with a heartbeat” stage (6 or 7 weeks, if I recall correctly.)”
Andrea again: Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. I like what Rebecca said about it being the mentality–not the tools. I have two friends who were offered testing in order that they might abort. (It was expressly stated.)by