A new blood test on a pregnant mom may eradicate Down Syndrome

Posted Nov 13, 2011 by Joan Firstenberg
A simple blood test on a pregnant woman will now enable doctors to screen for the most common type of Down syndrome. But experts say since the results may involve abortion, it is bound to be a very controversial procedure.
Boy with Down Syndrome using cordless drill to assemble a book case.
Boy with Down Syndrome using cordless drill to assemble a book case.
Rob Kay
It could mean the end of Down syndrome. That's the thinking of the San Diego pharmaceutical firm of Sequenom, which last month released the test that will now allow doctors to screen for Down syndrome with only a blood test from the mother. The New York Post reports that the screening is already available in 20 U.S. cities and will hit the others very soon. Additionally two other companies are planning to release similar tests next year.
Paul Root Wolpe, the director of the center for ethics at Emory University, says coupled with this test is bound to be an increase in abortions,
“What you end up having is a world without people with Down syndrome. And the question becomes is that a good thing or bad thing?”
The current methods of screening for Down syndrome are amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, which both carry the risk of inducing miscarriage, so only about 2% of pregnant women in the nation have it done.
Doctors say the safer prenatal screenings are likely to mean more women will be tested, and the number of women carrying babies with Down syndrome who terminate their pregnancies could increase, if not skyrocket. As it stands today, 92% of mothers who receive a definitive diagnosis of Down for their fetuses, choose to abort.
Wolfe says for most people this will bring up other issues.
“It’s a real conundrum. Human beings have always tried to fight and cure disease, and this tool, projecting it forward 50 years when it’s powerful enough, will make a difference in eliminating those diseases in the world. It’s a tough call.”
People born with Down syndrome typically have an extra copy of one of their chromosomes, usually chromosome 21, which changes their body and brain’s development and causes mental and physical problems such as mild to moderate mental retardation and unusual facial characteristics. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, today, about 6,000 babies are born each year. with Down syndrome.
The Daily Mail reports that a huge 92 per cent of mothers who are told that the baby they are carrying has Down syndrome choose to abort. There is still no cause of why infants develop with the syndrome. But the single biggest risk factor appears to be the age at which a woman gives birth. Doctors say the older a woman is when she has a baby, the higher the risk of her baby having Down syndrome. Women who are 45 or over have a 1 in 30 chance of having a child with Down syndrome.