Down’s Syndrome numbers don’t add up
Are more women choosing to have a Down’s Syndrome baby despite learning from a prenatal scan they are carrying a child with the condition?
But research data published in response by the National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register (NDSCR) in London suggests otherwise. It says that the rate of terminations of unborn Down’s Syndrome babies has remained constant since prenatal screening became widely available in 1989.
The Down’s Syndrome Association says its help desk has been receiving an average of two calls a week from expectant mothers who have received a positive scan for the condition who say they are continuing their pregnancy, a much higher rate than two to three years ago.
And it points to figures from the NDSCR showing that more Down’s Syndrome babies are now being born in England and Wales than before the start of widespread prenatal screening — there were 749 births in 2006, the latest year figures are available, compared to 717 in 1989 and a low of 563 in 1995.
The number of Down’s Syndrome births as a proportion of all live births has also increased by around 15 percent since 2000.
Carol Boys, the chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association said in a press release she was surprised by the numbers.
“It seems to show that more parents are thinking more carefully before opting for prenatal screening and termination –- that being born with Down’s syndrome is being seen in a different light today.”
Together with the BBC, the Association conducted a survey of parents of children with the condition to find out “why more women are opting to go ahead with their pregnancies”.
The findings suggest that attitudes to people with the condition or other disabilities have changed for the positive. Some 35 percent of the parents asked said they felt life and society had improved for people with Down’s Syndrome.
But an examination of birth and termination data cited by the Association and compiled by the NDSCR fails to show that more mothers are indeed pressing on with their pregnancies.
NDSCR Research Director Professor Joan Morris, based at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, told me she had issued a release of her own in response to the charity’s claim.
The release says: “92 percent of women who receive an antenatal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome decide to terminate the pregnancy. This proportion has not changed since 1989.”
“I’m pretty annoyed with the Down’s Syndrome Association that seem to have totally the wrong end of the stick,” she said.
“The story as we see it is massive increases in the number of Down’s Syndrome pregnancies, due to maternal age increasing, and a lot more screening going on.
“That is causing a lot of the pregnancies to be diagnosed prenatally and women decide to have terminations.
“These two big increases are matching against themselves … and the end result is that the number of births is increasing very slightly. But it’s nothing to do with women deciding to keep their pregnancies.”
[Picture shows Down's Syndrome performer Hu Yizhou from the China Disabled Peoples Performing Art Troupe conducting at a rehearsal for a concert in Seoul in this March 2004 photo. REUTERS/You Sung-Ho]