Prenatal Testing and the Fate of the Unborn

Comments by Santorum Spark Debate

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MAR. 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- On top of the continuing debate over health insurance and contraceptives another controversial topic came up recently in the United States, namely the use of prenatal testing.

In a press conference held Feb. 18, Rick Santorum, one of the Republican presidential candidates, criticized President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act for requiring free prenatal testing.

"Free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society," he said.

His comments were criticized, but he also received support. Writing in the opinion pages of the Chicago Tribune Esther J. Cepeda defended the right to abortion but also admitted that Santorum was right.

"Though I'm pro-choice, Santorum is not as off the mark as the passionate defenders of a woman's right to an abortion would like to admit," she said.

Explaining his position next day on the CBS program "Face the Nation" Santorum particularly criticized amniocentesis and referred to the fact that 90% of fetuses detected with Down syndrome are aborted.

Another nation that has recently debated the use of prenatal tests is Germany. Last year the Bundestag (parliament) voted 320 to 260 in favor of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) under restricted conditions, the Deutsche Welle news agency reported July 7.

The German Catholic bishops criticized the move saying it was contrary to "respect for human dignity," and recalling that "every person has a right to life from conception."

The use of PGD was considered illegal, but in 2010 the Federal Court of Justice allowed it for those couples with serious genetic disorders.

Life-threatening

The first German child to have been genetically screened was born on Jan. 27 in Lübeck, the German newspaper Die Welt reported. An English translation of the article published Feb. 16 on the Web site Worldcrunch explained that the parents, who wished to remain anonymous, had a genetic defect which meant any child of theirs had a 25% risk of inheriting a condition that would lead to death shortly after birth.

"We wouldn't do a PGD if one of the parents had an illness that was not life-threatening," said Dr. Gabriele Gillessen-Kaesbach, one of those involved in the procedure.

Experience shows, however, that as time goes by the use of PGD is increasingly widened and that abortion often results.

Writing in the Jan. 7 edition of Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, journalist Carolyn Abraham noted that it was just a year since the country's Supreme Court had struck down a law meant to regulate IVF treatment.

In the legal void that followed Canadian fertility clinics have been sending their IVF embryos to the United States to have them tested for a wide range of genetic defects. Critics fear that this quest for a perfect child is ushering in a new era of eugenics, she commented.

The article recounted how one Canadian doctor, Jeffery Nisker, working in the field of PGD changed his mind as he saw what was happening. Initially he was eager to help children be born free of genetic disorders. Then, however, he saw more and more parents wanting to use PGD to determine the sex of their future child, or to select them for a variety of qualities.

Moreover, he warned: "If we strive for perfection, we are going to blame people with disabilities. We're not going to accommodate them, or support them with tax dollars."

On being advised of a potential genetic problem with their fetus, women can feel under pressure to have an abortion. This was the case of Marie Ideson, who, she says, was bullied into abortion after she was told her unborn child had Down syndrome.

A burden

"A nurse said not aborting my baby would cause it to suffer, and she'd only become a burden on society if I went ahead," she told the Australian newspaper the Herald Sun in an article published last Dec. 4.

Immediately after the abortion she repented of what she had done, but the act put such a strain on her marriage that a few years later it ended in divorce.

Aborting those with handicaps is common also in Britain. An article published last July 4 by the Daily Mail newspaper said that the latest figures for 2010 revealed that 482 fetuses were aborted for Down syndrome, including 10 who were older than 24 weeks.

Even healthy fetuses can be aborted if they are of the wrong sex. The U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper recently carried out an undercover investigation where they went to clinics to see if they would perform an abortion on sex-related grounds.

In their report, dated Feb. 22, they said that despite such abortions being illegal they had found a number of clinics that were prepared to perform them.

Sex-selective abortion has also been in the spotlight in Canada in recent weeks, following an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal criticizing the practice. 

No matter how lofty the motivations, once the principle of the sanctity of life is lost then eventually everything becomes negotiable.