Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The 12 -week Scan and Down's Syndrome

Group member Amanda, a medical professional, writes:
So you’re pregnant, congratulations! One of the first tests you’ll be offered is the 12 week scan (also known as the Nuchal Fold Scan). It’s lovely to see your baby for the first time. Amazing. And certainly, if you aren’t sure of your dates, this is a good time to confirm your expected delivery date (EDD). Women who have a history of miscarriage may also find this scan reassuring, but beware! One of the main purposes of the 12 week scan is to detect babies who are at “high risk” of chromosomal abnormalities. Then parents can have the choice to proceed with a more risky test, to examine baby’s chromosomes accurately, so that little ones with less than the perfect complement can be identified and aborted. Our modern secular culture has become intolerant of anything less than perfection. But what does the Catholic Church say about this?
  • “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n 2270).
  • “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law….” (CCC, n 2271).
It is very clear that every human life is a gift from God and is to be cherished and protected. 
One of the commonest chromosome problems that might be picked up antenatally is Down’s syndrome or Trisomy 21 (literally three copies of chromosome number 21, instead of two). As someone who grew up with a Down’s syndrome sister I am horrified that, in this generation, she might not ever have been born because her parents may have decided she was not worthy of life. It’s estimated today that nine out of ten Downs babies are aborted after antenatal testing. 
As a mother and a doctor, I am acutely aware that any one of my six lovely children could become disabled by illness or injury at any time. Whether they were still deserving of my wholehearted love, care and protection would be unquestionable. The antenatal campaign against Down’s Syndrome and the other less common trisomies, 18 (Edwards Syndrome) and 12 (Patau’s Syndrome), has been called genocide and likened to the slaughter of the Jews in World War II. 

American Presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, has a three and a half year old daughter, Bella, with Edward’s Syndrome. He speaks very movingly of how she is the centre of their family, a centre of light and love.  "Bella makes us better," he says.  "We're the disabled ones, not her.  She has a beautiful spirit that emits unconditional love."
So, my advice, for what it’s worth.... Think twice about why you are being offered a 12 week scan. Take one, if you want. But do it for the right reasons. And let’s all thank God for the gift of life, intrinsically precious, in all its forms.


  1. Great post, Amanda, thank you :)

    The testimony of Rick Santorum is really moving. It's a pity he seems to be slipping well behind in the Republican race now, but we should keep praying. He would be an amazing force for good in the White House. Not just in the US, but far beyond too...

    1. Agreed. You must be a bit cheered by the news of his latest hat trick of wins in the Republican nomination race though!

      If on the unlikely chance Santorum became US President, he would need heaps upon heaps of our prayers to withstand the political pressures towards ethical compromise and in deadling with the difficult and politically/philosophically muddy task of reconciling religious faith with public legislation. A comment on the BBC website this morning sums up the sort of attitude he'll be facing from many: after listing various of Santorum's views, the commenter remarks "Palin, Bachmann, Perry, Santorum - when we said that it was impossible to have an American President more stupid than Bush, that wasn't meant to be a challenge!" My heart and my admiration go out to all holders of public authority seeking to find a place for God's law in the public forum.

  2. Thanks for this informative and moving post, Amanda. Your words "in this generation my sister may never have been born" struck me. Thanks to the advances in genetic testing, it is now not only possible to identify individuals who have the genetic anomaly that causes my daughter's condition (and of course this is a boon in diagnosis), but I believe it the test can be done antenatally if there is reason to do so. Which gives pause for reflection when I look at my lovely, living daughter...

    Genetic diagnostics are a mixed blessing. It's not just antenatal testing that is a potential minefield (although of course that's the one most women will come across). Close members of our family, such as our sons, have been offered testing to see if they carry the Friedreich's Ataxia DNA repeat. (Because this condition is "autosomal recessive", i.e. carried on a recessive gene, it is possible to be a carrier without being affected by the condition.) Should someone find out they are a carrier, then there is a whole host of attendant considerations. Should a future partner also be tested to see if they carry the faulty gene (in which case there is a one in four chance any child will be affected by FA)? If the partner is a carrier, do they try for children? In the case of pregnancy, do they opt for antenatal testing? If that is positive, what do they do...? For those without a clear religious faith, these are loaded questions. As soon as one has a piece of knowledge, there's no going back - choices relentlessly follow.

    I'm not wishing to turn the clock back on the wonderful medical advances that help us all so much, my daughter included. But sometimes it is good to remind ourselves that our increased skills bring increased ethical responsibilities.

    1. Thanks for the post Amanda, tis brilliant!

      Anneli I think the big problem lies in the fact that we live in a society where the vast majority of people have a miscronstrued idea of responsibility. (Sorry, I know I've rattled on about this before.) We have a right to know whether our baby will be healthy but as soon as there is a possibility that the answer is no then what is presented as the 'responsible decision' is to abort that life as that child won't have the same standard of living as other children. The same comes if we find we or our husband/wife are carrying a faulty gene, the so-called 'responsible choice' is to either not have children (even though there is a good chance their baby won't have FA or any other such condition) or to destroy any that do. In truth our responsibility is to protect and cherish and respect the life of all others. This starts at the moment of conception and even though a person may have a child that is not "normal" by today's measures, a child with a different but equally worthy standard of living, it is our responsibility, our duty to nourish that life with as much love and care as possible, to help it to grow to its full potential. And unless we give life the opportunity to flourish we have no idea what it can be capable of.

  3. Hi

    Just thought I'd share my own perspectives having had a DS 12 week scan with complications and "opted" (if you can call it that) for an abortion. At the time I wasn't a practising catholic, only one in name. I had never forgiven God for a leaving my mum in a heap under a bus and fallen out of love with my faith as a result of her severe accident related injuries which left our family devastated. My catholic faith was shelved.

    Since having an abortion after a 12 week scan and sharing this on Twitter one day I have encountered (mostly) compassionate and curious catholics who have extended love and understanding of a terrible situation we faced alone, in much confusion and without the strength of faith you clearly have. We aren't all so strong. It is worth remembering how few people in this sould crushing situation realise their options and the help available which can lead you away from abortion. We certainly weren't. The secular world doesn't make the pro life case very strongly and let's face it - most people will find themselves in this world. I found myself asking without the facts which was worse for her to suffer later and in full or suffer now at 12 weeks. The guidance I received was very clear. The latter. There was no talk of how this life may very well flourish and where we could go to ensure that.

    I hope you don't mind the intrusion and trust you find the post interesting. I am sure some of you will judge. I find it difficult to carve out a voice for couples like us in this debate but I feel we should be able to make an important contribution to it if we are to be honest, realistic and practical for couples at this point in their family journey and lead them away from abortion in the secular world.

    I spent a year in and out of hospital as a result of the procedure being botched - was told chances of then starting a family were slim. I had follow on surgery. Noone ever explained the signifcant risks to my health. For Marie Stopes it was all a breeze. Having spent the best part of 5 years trying to start a family you can imagine how this felt.

    In the end God blessed us with a baby. I am 9 months pregnant. I feel as though God has led me to this point - to try and refind my faith, which thanks to the kindness shown me recently I am, slowly but surely - and raise our voices up to ensure other couples are given enough help to cope and follow through with the pregnancy. God has given this little one I carry two souls and I take comfort in that, ever mindful of the grief I still feel at our loss.


    1. Hi Londonistar,

      Thank you for sharing your story so honestly. It wasn't an intrusion and we are very glad you have contributed! I know 100% that I speak for our whole pro-life group when I extend our sympathies to you for your loss and also say that we absolutely understand the pressures you were under when you made that "choice" (which wasn't a sign of weakness, by the way). Our role is not to judge; we have no right to judge and no desire to either. The pressures on couples in your situation are immense, and as you say the guidance tends to be all in one direction. That's why two hugely enormous parts of pro-life work are education/information and support.

      Thank you for the courage you are showing in sharing this and for raising up your voice to help others. Be assured of our prayers for the birth of your baby (which must be imminent! - we'd love to know when he/she is born) and for your faith journey.

    2. Whoops, that was meant to say "hugely important parts.." not "hugely enormous". Well, I'd like to think they are also enormous parts! It's certainly a challenge for all of us who call ourselves pro-lifers, to make sure we aren't just speaking out to try to change laws or mindsets but are also doing what we can to actually walk with those who are facing crisis pregnancies and other difficult situations.

    3. Thank you Anneli. I appreciate you reaching out and hope that we can achieve as much through education and practical solutions as through the legal aspect. Please do pop over to my blog sometime and you'll find an array of 'struggling catholic' posts I write on this parenting journey including many on pro life. I HOPE to have an interview with Nadine Dorries on there tomorrow plus a few other writers who plan to share their parenting journies. I'd love to cross post from here occasionally if you are all comfortable with that? You are a valubale source of inspiration.

      We share a similar surname by the way.

    4. I shall certainly pop over on a regular basis and yes, let's definitely cross post. Thanks Londonistar.

      Don't know about yours but mine's Polish!! (My husband, not me.)

  4. Goodpost. Well done and thank you!

    So unacceptable that eugenics plays such a part in the medical profession. We see it in legislation all too often.

    You might be interested in looking at the the topic of Mosaic Down syndrome sometime. It's not common and not well know about either.

    The September 2011 copy of SPUC's Pro-Life Times carried an article about a baby with Edward's syndrome, and another article about a young man with Down's syndrome.

    Best wishes

    Daniel Blackman
    SPUC Research and Campaigns officier

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for commenting.
      I am aware of mosaic Down's Syndrome, (and other rare variants such as a translocation of the long arm of chromosome 21). I would imagine that there is a much lower rate of this being picked up on any type of screening. Which just supports the fact that the quest for perfection our society seems to have embarked upon, is a snare and illusion causing the loss of many precious lives. Just as severe autism cannot be predicted antenatally. Just as we never know when one of us will be disabled by illness or injury.

      Food for thought.

  5. I notice (hat tip to John Smeaton's blog) that Sarah Palin has spoken about her life with her Down's Syndrome son. "God knew what he was doing when he blessed us with Trig. We went from fear of the unknown to proudly displaying a bumper sticker sent to us that reads: 'My kid has more chromosomes than your kid!'" See http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-2096912/Sarah-Palins-touching-account-living-son-Downs-Syndrome.html?printingPage=true