PRESS RELEASE: Down’s syndrome advocacy group fear introduction of abortion up to birth for disabilities on Isle of Man could lead to more children with Down’s syndrome being screened out by termination

Aug 23, 2017 | Press releases

Down’s syndrome advocacy group Don’t Screen Us Out are concerned that a proposed abortion Bill on the Isle of Man would worsen eugenic screening against children with Down’s syndrome and other foetal impairments.

Whilst the current IoM abortion law already allows for abortion up to 24 weeks on the grounds that the child would be “seriously handicapped”, it also requires two doctors to make an additional ‘good faith’ judgement that “that the handicap is not capable of being cured or substantially relieved by treatment or the passage of time”. This has apparently meant that there have not been terminations for Down’s syndrome and similar conditions on the IoM under the current law.

The new proposed Bill, however, would extend abortion for disability up to birth, bringing Manx law closer to that of the UK, where, in the absence of support given to parents who have a child with a foetal impairment such as Down’s syndrome, it has led to 90% of such children being aborted. The numbers of babies with Down’s syndrome aborted is set to worsen with the introduction of a new prenatal test, ‘cell-free DNA’ (cfDNA), otherwise known as Non-Invasive Prenatal testing (NIPT),  which is projected to result in a profound increase in the number of children with Down’s syndrome screened out by termination.

A recent report of the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) of the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) issued a stern warning about the drive to adopt NIPT in national screening programmes, saying that “the potential ethical disadvantages of NIPT can be summarised as routinisation and institutionalisation of the choice of not giving birth to an ill or disabled child”.

In November last year, Don’t Screen Us Out called on the IoM Government to revoke a decision to roll-out cfDNA in line with the UK Government. This announcement was made without consultation with people with Down’s syndrome and their families, no assessment was made by the Manx Department of Health and Social Care of the effect that the roll-out would have on the lives of people with Down’s syndrome, and no ethical review of the proposed roll-out was carried out.

People with Down’s syndrome and their families have been taking to the airwaves, broadcast TV and newspapers voicing the alarm they have felt about this new testing. Last year, the airing of Bridget Jones’s Diary star Sally Phillips’ BBC documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome generated much discussion about the proposed rollout. The result has been that the relevant issues have gone on to be covered by the media internationally, most recently by Australian and US television.

Don’t Screen Us Out call on the Manx public, especially those who are or who care for people with mental or physical impairments, to respond to the consultation on these laws calling for practical help as has been prescribed by disability rights campaigners, to precede or coincide with both cfDNA implementation, and to reject any change to the law which could increase the the number of children with Down’s syndrome screened out by termination on the Isle of Man.

Alison Morley, parent of Hazel who has Down’s syndrome, said:

“Whatever you think about abortion, we know that the laws across the UK have led to 90% of babies found to have Down’s syndrome n being aborted. If these laws were copied on the Isle of Man by introducing abortion for disability up to birth, at the same time as going ahead with the planned DHSC roll-out of access to cfDNA tests (without any consultation with the Manx community of people with Down’s syndrome and their families), we will  simply be exporting  the dire eugenic consequences from the UK to the Island”.

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out, said:

“The lack of support suffered by parents both sides of the Irish Sea, combined with these changes, will clearly worsen the screening out of children with foetal impairments. As a mother of a child with Down’s syndrome,  who knows the love and joy that such children can experience, I have to stress how important it is for the Manx Government and its people  to respond to the challenge of creating a truly caring and compassionate society by means of urgent meaningful consultation with the Down’s syndrome community and adherence to national and international disability guidance, thereby giving this community the support they need to flourish”.


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