A safer and more accurate screening test for Down Syndrome is set to become available on the UK’s National Health Scheme, raising concerns about increased termination of babies with disabilities.
The new screening procedure, known as a cell-free DNA (cfDNA) test, detects and analyses fragments of the baby’s DNA in the mother’s blood.
In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that cfDNA test “had higher sensitivity, a lower false positive rate, and higher positive predictive value than did standard screening”. The false positive rate was just 0.06 percent as compared to 5.4 percent for standard screening.
Doctors are enthusiastic as the test means fewer women will need further, invasive procedures (such as amniocentesis) to confirm initial results. Women with abnormal non-invasive test results will still be recommended an amniocentesis or CVS test as confirmation, but far fewer will be needed overall.
Parents of children with Down Syndrome have expressed concern. In a letter to UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out said that if the NHS funded the treatment it would “result in a profound increase in the number of children with Down’s syndrome screened out by termination”.
Dr Elizabeth Corcoran, of the Down’s Syndrome Research Foundation, said: “We demand Jeremy Hunt halt the roll-out of Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), and listen to the views of people with Down’s syndrome and their families. Make no mistake, this is will not be to the benefit people of with Down’s syndrome, born or unborn.”
The death of Ivo Pitanguy in Rio this week was the intersection of bioethics and the Olympics. The world’s best-known cosmetic surgeon and a celebrity in his native Brazil, he carried the Olympic flame on the day before he died of a heart attack at the age of 93.
A member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, Pitanguy thought deeply about his specialty. “My operations are not just for my patients’ bodies. They are for their souls,” he wrote. He regarded beauty as a human right and he made cosmetic surgery as popular among the poor as among glittering celebrities.
However, his poetic vision of his specialty clashes with the scepticism of some bioethicists. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, in the UK, is currently conducting an inquiry into cosmetic procedures, in response to concerns that patients are being victimized and that the industry is sustained by sexist stereotypes. Its discussion paper is particularly interesting. We hope to cover this area in more depth in the future.
|This week in BioEdge|
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