Routine prenatal screening could lead to the eradication of people with Down’s syndrome altogether, campaigners fear.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, NHS Health Research Authority ethics committee member and journalist Lois Rogers asked: “Could this be the last generation of Down’s syndrome children?”
Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), a type of blood test, is believed to be 99 per cent accurate in diagnosing the condition and has been offered to all pregnant women in England since July.
Rebecca Hulbert, a mother of a two-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome, told Rogers: “I didn’t know he had Down’s syndrome until he was born.
“It scares me to think about what I would have done if I had found out when I was pregnant.
“I had never met anyone with the condition, I just had these stereotypical images of what it was. But Arthur is fantastic. He’s humorous, he’s bright and he’s an absolute joy.”
Aware that where NIPT is available, most women opt for an abortion if Down’s syndrome is detected, Hulbert added: “It makes me sick to my stomach that we are going down the road of eliminating people.”
Down’s syndrome campaigners recently suffered a setback after the High Court rejected a legal challenge to the law that allows babies with the chromosomal condition to be aborted up to birth.
Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose son Aidan was also born with the condition, have now vowed to take their case to the Court of Appeal.
Reflecting on the recent developments, Hulbert said: “I feel very sad and worried. Are we trying to create a master race of identical children all capable of going to Oxford, or do we also want people who can read how you’re feeling and give you a hug?
“I would say we need more Arthurs, Aidans and Heidis in this world.”
Under current legislation, abortion is permitted up to 24 weeks for most reasons but is available at full-term for children deemed to have a disability – including Down’s syndrome.
Last year, figures from the Department of Health and Social Care showed a 5.6 per cent increase in babies aborted with Down’s syndrome from the previous year, with abortions for the condition rising from 656 in 2019, to 693 in 2020.