The Welsh Government has confirmed that non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) will be introduced within the antenatal screening programme in Wales.
The announcement by Public Health Minister, Rebecca Evans confirms that Wales will follow England in making the test available on the NHS [National Health Service] from 2018.
Throughout the press release, NIPT is referred to as a “safer” test for Down’s syndrome, because the traditional invasive amniocentesis test has a small risk of causing miscarriage. However, the more accurate amniocentesis would still be carried out to confirm a diagnosis.
Safer for who?
Significantly though, the release does not mention the fears expressed by many campaigners that genetic screening will lead to an increase in eugenic abortions.
The Don’t Screen Us Out Campaign, which achieved a high media profile when the issue was being debated in England, highlighted that the National Institute for Health and Research RAPID evaluation study projects that the proposed implementation would result in 102 more babies with Down’s syndrome being identified each year. Based on the current 90% abortion rate for babies with a Down’s syndrome diagnosis, this is projected to result in 92 more such children being aborted each year.
Are we so different?
Recently, a report from Iceland (where genetic screening was introduced in the early 2000s) shocked audiences worldwide by revealing that nearly 100% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. With the termination rate in England and Wales already at 90%, it is feared that the introduction of NIPT on the NHS will lead to the same situation here.
Don’t Screen Us Out
The 2016 abortion statistics (released in June 2017) already show an increase in the number of abortions for Down’s syndrome from 689 in 2015, to 706 in 2016. This increase since 2010 is 46% – which is likely explained by the private availability of NIPT in the UK.
As with the decision in England, the Welsh Government has decided to roll out NIPT without consulting people with Down’s syndrome and their families, or considering what impact it could have on their communities.