Ethics Body Warns About Downs Blood Test


The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has recommended that a blood test which can identify unborn babies with Down Syndrome should be restricted. The Council does not seem troubled that babies with Down Syndrome might be targetted for abortion as a result of the test, but is concerned it could also be used for other reasons.


Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) was designed to identify babies with Down Syndrome. It can also reveal the baby’s sex and other genetic traits. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a UK Government-backed think tank, has warned that unscrupulous clinics may use the test to ensure a mother will have a boy or certain desired genetic traits such as a particular height or hair colour.


Professor Tom Shakespeare, who chaired the Council’s working group on NIPT, warned that the test could allow encourage ‘sex-selection tourists,’ from other countries who want to be sure they are having a boy.


“Abortions on the basis of sex appear to be rare in Britain. However, this could change with a new DNA testing method that allows the baby’s sex to be revealed to prospective parents much earlier that the standard 18-20 week scan,” he said.


“We know that some women are under strong pressure to give birth to boys, and may be subject to abuse if they give birth to a girl.

“If left unchecked, use of this technique to determine sex could lead to an increase in sex-selective abortions here, and to Britain becoming a destination for them.

"The test also allows whole genome sequencing which is a serious thing. People are already paying thousands for school fees so it is not unreasonable they would pay to find out if their child will have genetic traits that would allow them to perform well.

“We’re not there quite yet, but we're not far off, and we are calling for a moratorium to be put in place now before we get there to stop this sort of thing happening.”


From this year, the UK’s National Health Service will offer the test to expectant mothers to screen for Down, Patau and Edwards’ syndromes if doctors judge that the baby has a higher than average risk.

The Daily Telegraph. May 22.

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