With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number ofhas significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.
While the tests are optional, the government states that all expectant mothers must be informed about availability of screening tests, which reveal the likelihood of a child being born with Down syndrome. Around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik.
“CBSN: On Assignment” headed to Iceland with CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano to investigate what’s factoring into the high termination rates.
Using an ultrasound, blood test and the mother’s age, the test, called the Combination Test, determines whether the fetus will have a chromosome abnormality, the most common of which results in Down syndrome. Children born with this genetic disorder have distinctive facial issues and a range of developmental issues. Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.
Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates. According to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it’s 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015). The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity — and Down syndrome is included in this category.
Where are the voices of disapproval or criticism? Where’s the other side? This is as close as it gets:
Quijano asked [geneticist Eric] Stefansson, “What does the 100 percent termination rate, you think, reflect about Icelandic society?”
“It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling,” he said. “And I don’t think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable. … You’re having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”
Stefansson noted, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.”
No word from medical ethicists. No criticism from clergy. No moral qualms.
This is appallingly unbalanced, agenda-driven crap.
Meantime, one prominent pro-life voice online has taken note:
— Patricia Heaton (@PatriciaHeaton) August 15, 2017
Read this summary of reaction, which dares to call this practice what it is: eugenics. Didn’t CBS get that? Evidently not.
Over 35 years ago, when I first joined CBS News as a young kid just out of college, I had the privilege of working with people who had known and worked alongside the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Charles Collingwood. They had a sense of mission, history and purpose. Beyond that, there was a sense of journalistic responsibility; there were fairly stringent standards that had to be followed. Differing views were not optional; they were mandatory. Back then, someone would have skimmed this script and made the connection. “You know,” he’d say, “I know guys who followed the troops as they liberated the camps at the end of World War II, and they saw what this kind of thinking created. This is just like that. It’s eugenics. You need someone to address that. Otherwise, it sounds like we’re supporting it. We can’t have that.” And the reporter or producer would be sent back to get other voices to give context and balance. (Or, if they really wanted a story to grab people by the throat, they might have taken a different approach, posing the question: “Is eugenics taking hold in Iceland?”)
Where are people to do that kind of reporting today? Or don’t they care?
UPDATE: I’ll be chatting about this with Sheila Liaugminas on Relevant Radio tonight at 6:30 pm ET. You can learn more about her show, “A Closer Look” and give a listen here.
Photo: CBS News
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