I read an article today on NBCNews.com regarding the new prenatal tests for chromosomal abnormalities. If you’ve been pregnant recently, you’ve probably been offered or have taken them (they can be done as early as 10 weeks pregnant).
“The test is called the “cell free DNA test” (cfDNA) and it looks at small amounts of actual fetal DNA in mom’s blood. Researchers performed the test on nearly 2,000 pregnant women and found that the rate of false positives with this new test was 10 times lower than with standard screening measures, which are done later in the pregnancy.”
I was offered this test (4 times) during this pregnancy and declined (every time) because, for me, it didn’t matter. Not only do I already have a beautiful child with Down syndrome, but I also know my personality and I’m more of a “deal with it when it happens person.”
Some parents are not this way — some would prefer to know ahead of time. In fact, I know several wonderful moms in the Down syndrome community who were happy that they knew ahead of time as it gave them time to prepare for their child in a way that suited them and their families. The article went on to discuss the positives on the test, but then added a balanced perspective that gave me pause:
“Not everyone is excited about advances in prenatal testing. Some pro-life advocates as well as families of children born with Down syndrome argue that these tests may spell the end of kids with Down syndrome and related chromosomal abnormalities. In particular, they worry that if parents are given news of a possible abnormality based on a more accurate test early in the pregnancy, that would encourage them to abort an affected fetus if further testing bore out the diagnosis.”
I don’t disagree with this statement — it’s true, the abortion rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome is shocking and it seems that the earlier and more accurate a test is at diagnosing Down syndrome prenatally, the more abortions will occur.
But I think there’s something much bigger at hand here.
It’s not the earlier, more accurate tests, that will be the main cause for an increase in abortions of children with Down syndrome — it’s the fact that we’re making life and death decisions on an incredibly incomplete picture.
As I’ve discussed before, the technology for detecting Down syndrome is far more advanced than our understanding of what it means to have — or raise a child with — Down syndrome. This technology will only become more advanced as time progresses, which is why it’s more important than ever to promote the truth of what that diagnosis truly means, by:
Delivering news with up-to-date information and compassionate resources.
Sharing more than test results — but testimonies.
Sharing more than facts — but faces.
And sharing with scared new parents that a diagnosis is only a starting point of a story. And how can we make the decision to end the story after the first sentence?
As prenatal tests advance, our advocacy must advance accordingly — not to encourage people to know less about their pregnancies — but to help them understand so much more about their potential.