Human Development

Prenatal Screening May not be as Accurate as Once Thought (11/06)

PRENATAL SCREENING NOT SO ACCURATE AS ONCE THOUGHT. “Normal” Children Killed as “Defective”? Scientists conclude there is really no such thing as “normal” in genetic inheritance. New research has found that more genetic differences exist among people than previous research had indicated. In 2000 the international team of scientists working on the Human Genome project said that there was only a miniscule percentage of difference between people.

At about the same time, genetic screening was introduced as a common feature of prenatal care and as part of artificial procreation in IVF facilities. The new research shows, however, that this screening is not as accurate as previously thought.

In the new study, 270 volunteers from different countries were tested and the researchers found that the genetic continuance from parents to child is not as straightforward as previously thought. In fact, the conclusion seems to be that there is really no such thing as “normal” in genetic inheritance.

This means that screens for genetic abnormality are unrealizable without a reliable standard of “normal.” The report, published in the journal Nature suggests that prenatal screening may have incorrectly diagnosed genetic abnormalities as defects.

In the period since the growth of genetic screening, in both IVF and natural conception, fewer children are being allowed to live to birth because of suspected genetic defects such as Down’s syndrome. With abortion being available in many jurisdictions for any reason or no reason, a genetic test result with any kind of abnormality is often a death sentence for the child. 

The Globe and Mail quotes Steve Scherer, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and study co-author, “The genome is like an accordion that can stretch or shrink . . . so you have no idea what's normal.”

“We have to think of genetics in an entirely different way. We're actually more like a patchwork of genetic code than bar codes that line up evenly,” Dr. Scherer said.

Disability rights groups and pro-life advocates have decried the practice but most hospitals now offer “genetic counselling” to give parents the opportunity to abort a child who is deemed to be imperfect.

Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital, for instance, offers a list of genetic counselling clinics as part of their Family Medicine Genetics Program. Mount Sinai’s website says its Genetics Program staff, “provide information that helps families make personal decisions about pregnancy and child care.”

“A genetic counsellor works with a person or family who may be at risk for inherited disease or an abnormal pregnancy outcome by discussing the chances of having children who are affected.”

Mt. Sinai recommends genetic counselling for “couples who already have a child with mental retardation, an inherited disorder or a birth defect… (and) women over the age of 35 who are pregnant or planning to be.” This age group has a significantly higher, although still very low percentage chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome.

At age 35 the chance of conceiving a Downs child is estimated to be 1 in 400 or one-quarter of one percent of conceptions. At age 40 it becomes 1 percent and for conceptions over age 45 the overall average increases to 4 percent. However, 75 percent of all babies with Down syndrome are born to women under 35.

Mt Sinai says, “When a birth defect is diagnosed, genetic counsellors provide emotional support during what can be a very difficult time. If there are decisions to be made about the pregnancy…. the parents can make more informed choices with the facts in hand.”

“Treatment” for a prenatal diagnosis of a possible inherited disease or genetic abnormality is often killing the couple’s child via abortion.

The late, famed French geneticist, Dr. Jerome Lejeune first discovered the genetic basis of Down's Syndrome and strongly believed a cure, or more correctly a treatment therapy, was possible for Down’s patients in the early stages of their lives. He was however unable to obtain adequate funding for this research and was dismayed that the response to his discovery was to instead use it to search for and destroy unborn children with Down syndrome.

[24Nov06, LifeSiteNews.com, Toronto, Hilary White]