PRESS RELEASE: Down syndrome screening refocus is a step in the right direction says Saving Downs

SavingDowns is encouraged by a refocus from the National Screening Unit (NSU) away from the routine offering of screening for Down syndrome to all pregnant women to simply advising them of the availability of screening.

The previously mandated offering of screening sent an implicit message to mothers that participation in the screening programme was the “right” thing to do. As the programme has a stated objective and outcome of preventing the birth of children with Down syndrome and other disabilities, the mandated offering of screening offends principles of human dignity and diversity. Such programmes are recognised as eugenic.

SavingDowns spokesman Mike Sullivan says that feedback from midwives and GPs attending the current NSU training workshops on screening for Down syndrome and other conditions indicates a growing opposition to the screening programme, on the grounds that the eugenic undertone is unethical. “We concur with the new position statement from the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association that it does not consider Down syndrome in itself a reason for termination (of a pregnancy)”, he said.

By changing the requirement for midwives and GPs from “offering” screening to simply “advising” pregnant women of its availability, the onus is on the parents to request participation, rather than it being a matter of routine pregnancy care. Midwives and GPs who are morally opposed to eugenics can exercise their right to conscientious objection and advise parents to seek the “service” elsewhere with no requirement to provide a referral (as provided for under Section 174 of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003). They are also free to explain that the screening pathway has no therapeutic benefit for their child.

Mr Sullivan described the new policy as “a step in the right direction for respecting the lives of those with Down syndrome and other disabilities”.

In 2010, a complaint from SavingDowns was upheld by the Health and Disability Commissioner on the unbalanced quality of information produced by the NSU. As a result of this the NSU has been revising its guidelines for health practitioners. The refocus away from the routine offering of screening is a direct result of submissions received by the NSU on the draft revised guidelines from the disability community. The NSU is also revising their consumer resources, as the current series of three pamphlets given to pregnant women were also deemed inadequate by the Health and Disability Commissioner.

Mr Sullivan notes that “when a pregnant woman sees her midwife or GP, she has a wanted pregnancy and is seeking nurturance through to a successful birth”. SavingDowns calls on health professionals to act with conscience and dignity and do their utmost to respect all human life, including those with Down syndrome and other disabilities.


For more information contact:

Mike Sullivan
Spokesman for SavingDowns
09 436 1498
021 406 266
[email protected]

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