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I feel sad that so many women deprive themselves of the love that a child with Down’s would bring

As the mother of a Down’s daughter my heart sinks at every new ‘breakthrough’

By on Monday, 10 June 2013

'Politicians have bought in to the over-population agenda for too long'

'Politicians have bought in to the over-population agenda for too long'

Last Friday’s Telegraph had a small and seemingly innocuous news item, entitled “New Down’s syndrome blood test to go on trial”. I read it with anticipatory dread. It seems that this new screening test “will identify with 99% certainty whether [a patient’s] unborn child will have Down’s”. The item expanded on the supposedly good news: “Experts conducting the ongoing study said that, if offered through the NHS, the method could spare tens of thousands of women the need for one or two invasive tests, chorionic villus sampling (CVS) and amniocentesis, which cause almost 300 miscarriages each year.” Professor Kypros Nicolaides, who led the study, said, “With the current method you get any number: one in two [chance of the baby having Down’s], one in 10, 50, or 500. With the new test you get a result which is either more than 99% chance, or a less than one in 10,000 chance. It is a very clear distinction.”

My anticipatory dread was because I realised (although the article does not spell it out – perhaps because it is so obvious?) that there is only one reason for this new test: to refine the method of searching out and aborting babies discovered to have Down’s syndrome. As some readers of my blogs will know, my youngest daughter, now aged 22, has Down’s and whenever I read these news items my instinct is to run and put my arms round her, to shield her from the blows that society wants to inflict on this innocent and lovely girl and others like her.

Everything about the news item is chilling: the word “experts”; the fact that 300 healthy babies are miscarried each year at present as the necessary price of detecting babies with Down’s; and the fact that a medical professor is quoted – a man at the pinnacle of his profession, of which the Hippocratic Oath warns at first “to do no harm”. I think of another famous scientist, the late Professor Jerome Lejeune, who first discovered the cause of Down’s syndrome, and who spent his life fighting to protect his patients from those who would misuse and abuse his discovery.

When one writes on this subject someone usually posts a comment to the effect, “How dare you want to force women to give birth to handicapped babies? Who are you to tell them to cope in such a situation?” The only answer I can think of is a personal one: if women only knew that accepting these babies into their lives rather than rejecting them would not be the tragedy and disaster the media and the medical professionals have brainwashed them to believe, they would never go ahead with the abortion. Indeed, if they knew what love and fulfilment they might experience from the care and company of a child with Down’s, they would want to join a pro-life organisation to help other women at a very vulnerable time in their lives, fearful of the future and swayed by the wrong advice, to see the good that would flow from choosing not to abort.

So I do not want to sound in any way censorious or judgmental about such a grave consideration. I simply feel sad that so many women deprive themselves of the love that a child with Down’s would bring them; and now, with the advent of this new test, they will be further persuaded to submit to it and have even less opportunity to experience “Welcome to Holland” (an excellent article about choosing to accept handicap rather than banish it.).

As I write this, the pro-life organisation, the Good Counsel Network (GCN), is seeking to raise urgently needed funds of their work at their annual Wandsworth to Wapping Sponsored Walk, which will take place on Saturday 20th July, starting with Mass at 10 and finishing at approximately 4 pm with drinks and refreshments. The GCN offers pregnant women who are thinking of abortion all the emotional, practical and moral support they require to have the confidence to continue with their pregnancy. They are always short of money. There are more details on their website: Goodcounselnetwork.com

  • Nesbyth

    Dominic Lawson wrote a very moving piece in last Sunday’s Times about his daughter’s 18th birthday. She has Down’s syndrome. When she was blowing out the candles on her cake she was asked to make a wish. She replied that she didn’t need to wish for anything as she was perfectly happy and had all that she needed.
    How many 18 year-olds would make that reply?

  • JR,Sydney

    More than you would think, Nesbyth. One does not have to be intellectually disabled to make such a comment, and I guess I should be heartened that Mr Lawson;s daughter is so content with her lot in life. No doubt she is a loved and cherished child.

    However I have to take issue with certain points in Ms Phillips’s article. I am well aware ( no doubt all you gentle readers were previously aware) that Ms Phillips is the mother of a daughter who happens to have Down syndrome. It is clear that this daughter is also loved and cherished. I am not acquainted with the details of Ms Phillps’s medical history and whether at any time in her pregnancy she was given advance knowledge of her daughter’s condition. It is none of my business. She has accepted her daughter and loves her. Good for her.

    As it happens not all women think ( or have thought) as Ms Phillips does. This is not a new phenomenon, antenatal testing notwithstanding. Antenatal testing stands because parents desire it. As a medical practitioner I have never encountered parents who were coerced ( or even advised) into undergoing testing for Down syndrome (or for any other congenital abnormality for that matter). Testing is offered and is not infrequently declined. Back in the “good old days” before chromosome analysis and nuchal lucency ultrasound may infants with Down syndrome were routinely left at the maternity hospital and their parents were advised to forget about them-as recently as the 1970s. They frequently grew up in institutional care and died early-60 is still “old” for an adult with Down syndrome, If these children were unfortunate enough to have congenital heart disease, duodenal atresia or any of the other congenital anomalies associated with the syndrome they were not treated.

    The tone of the article is “why can’t all expectant mothers who may have a Down Syndrome child be like me?”. Well, not everyone can or will think as Ms Phillips thinks, and such people have not necessarily been “brainwashed” or coerced. Not everyone may have the idea supprts. Not everyone may have Ms Phillips’ faith. Not every women will be congratulated for bringing home her disabled child ( be it Down syndrome or any other disorder). Not every marriage will withstand the strain and not everyone has access to the same resources. It is a pity that Ms Phillips feels that her daughter is threatened by “blows inflicted by society” because she happens to have Down syndrome. I do not believe that she has anything to fear in this regard, as I believe that the option for prenatal testing does not automatically lead down the eugenic pathway.

    I take issue with Ms Phillips’ assertion that the media and the medical profession have “brainwashed” women ( and I note she speaks of women , not parents) into believing that to have a disabled child is a tragedy. It IS a tragedy, as iscerebral palsy, spina bifida, haemophilia, you name it, whatever condition may affect a child and the child’s family. All the platitudes in the world about Holland being as good as France ( so what to this Antipodean) will not change this.

    Finally the gentle reader may be heartened to know that a significant minority of parents ( note parents not women) who elect to undergo prenatal testing and who are given news of Down syndrome ( or any other congenital abnormality) do elect to proceed with pregnancy and deal with the hand they’ve been dealt-and so many without recourse to support from “pro-life” organisations.

    Unfortunately the “pro-life” movement comes across as being both censorious and judgmental. It is no wonder that most pregnant women considering termination for whatever reason would run far, far away from these well-meaning folk.

  • ProudMumof2

    JR, Sydney. Greetings! . Just wanted to comment as a parent of two boys, the youngest who has Down Syndrome. my son who ahowed soft markers at my 19 week scan, the son who I chose to keep after i got those NEGATIVE comments from MEDICAL STAFF about worse case scenario my baby has DS or CP and dont you want to test, you know those comments you say arent said. I have heard many stories of worse treatment when other Mothers refused to test, or when their babies were born and a nurse or Dr asks but did you test? Unortunately the world IS still filled with ignorant people, in and out of the medical proffession. My son and all babies with DS have as much right to life than you or I do. My son completes our family. My son will never be ignorant, he will never think someone isnt worthy of life or someone else is a burden. Thankgodness he will never be full if hate or ignorqnce. And just for the record a 4th cousin had a son with ds in the late 1960s in Peth and she told the medical taff to take a hike and took him home to rqise him in her family. Goodnight!