By Trudy Simpson
Editor’s note. This appeared on the blog of the [British] Christian Medical Fellowship.
Disability rights groups have launched a campaign asking The United Nations and other organisations to protect babies with Down syndrome from being aborted.
The #StopDiscriminatingDown campaign is being spearheaded by The Jerome Lejeune Foundation in France, USA and Spain and Downpride in the Netherlands and Canada.
The campaign follows news that several countries have introduced, or are about to introduce [new] prenatal screening tests for Down syndrome. These tests could result in a rise in the number of babies with Down Syndrome who are aborted, campaigners said.
‘Many countries are on the brink of expanding national prenatal screening programs with a new generation of genetic tests aimed at detecting Down syndrome. With selective termination rates already higher than 90% in these countries, the result will be catastrophic,’ campaigners warned in a press release . ‘…The expansion of government sponsored prenatal screening and abortion stand in stark contradiction to the social progress made over the past 40 years towards an inclusive and equal society.’
As part of the #StopDiscriminatingDown campaign, they have launched an international petition which they presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on World Down Syndrome Day, 21st March 2016. They are asking him, along with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the Commissioner for Human Rights from the Council of Europe , Mr. Nils Muižnieks and the European Commissioner for the Charter of Fundamental Rights , Mr. Frans Timmermans to require member states to:
1. Stop systematic prenatal screening programs that target Down syndrome and deliberately encourage abortion as part of public health programs
2. Regulate the introduction of prenatal genetic testing, based on the principles defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , in the Oviedo Convention (articles 11 and 12) and in the EU charter of Fundamental Rights (articles 2, 3, 21 and 26) , the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (articles 5, 10, 14, 15, 23, 25)
3. Allow the use of genetic testing solely to enhance human care and well-being, and not to discriminate against people on the basis of their genetic predisposition.
Disability campaigners said,
‘In a humane world, people with Down syndrome should be welcome…Babies born with Down syndrome today can look forward to a long and qualitatively good life. In fact, research on this population shows that people with Down syndrome and their families have a better appreciation of life than others.’
‘While throughout the world we petition, walk, and meet together to fight against discrimination and to protect biodiversity, no-one should have to defend threats to their life because of his or her genetic make-up. In a humane world aware of the need for acceptance and inclusion of differences, people with Down syndrome should not be discriminated against.’
Recently the National Health Service (NHS) decided to implement prenatal tests amidst claims these tests were safer. This is despite research that shows that this is likely to increase the number of babies with Down syndrome who are aborted each year.
In a previous CMF blogpost, CMF head of Public Policy Philippa Taylor outlined research that showed that as a many as 92 more babies with this condition could be aborted because of these tests.
‘The reality is that these new tests would lead to more lives being aborted, and an increase in harm, despite public messaging that the test is ‘safer’,’ Taylor said.
Trudy Simpson is Junior Researcher in the CMF Public Policy team.