Friday, 30 October 2020

Abortion and Disability

 While Poland experiences street protests against a judicial determination that abortion on the grounds of disability of the unborn baby is unconstitutional, the BBC has carried a report of the experiences of mothers of Down's Syndrome children. The headings of the three testimonies in the report are:

'The support was only there if I chose an abortion'
'At 38 weeks, I was told I could still terminate'
'I started to ask myself what is so wrong with him having Down's Syndrome'

The last testimony is, in some respects, the most challenging but at the same time the most instructive:

When Tom was born, Nicola was euphoric. But the following day, a paediatrician asked her if she thought he looked normal.

Tom was diagnosed with Down's syndrome and Nicola's world fell apart.

"I was offered absolutely no support to rebuild it," she says. "I felt complete and utter despair and devastation. Gone was this gorgeous baby and instead he was replaced with this unknown entity." .....

..... Nicola's maternal bond had been "severed" and it took her more than a year to fall back in love with her son.

"I started to ask myself, 'what is so wrong with him having Down's syndrome?'"

Tom, now 16, is a pupil in mainstream education. Nicola describes him as "charming, witty and charismatic". A West Bromwich Albion fan, he also enjoys golf, snorkelling and kayaking and hopes to get a job and get married.

Nicola says cancelling the amniocentesis was the best decision she ever made.

"I am terrified I would have terminated Tom's life. I was led to believe he would have a negative impact on our lives but he has enriched them and we are without doubt better people for having him in them."

The BBC report demonstrates clearly a presumption on the part of health care professionals to encourage mothers to consider abortion where there is risk of a baby having Down's Syndrome. It is difficult to read the BBC report without actually feeling that that encouragement is close to, if not in fact, undue pressure. The BBC report links to the page on the NHS website page - here - that offers advice for women with regard to the outcome of pre-natal screening tests. It would be interesting to know how much, in the light of the advice on this page, the experience of mothers has changed compared to the testimonies in this report (the advice has been changed as a result of campaigning by Nicola).

The BBC report prompts two thoughts:

Is an abortion a truly acceptable option in the case of a disability that still leaves the new born baby with a life expectancy of between 50 and 60 years (according to the BBC report), and where, during their lifetime, they can be expected to contribute much to the lives of those around them?

The fact that such an abortion is legal in the UK means that every woman who is expecting a child who may be disabled is put in the position of having to make a decision for or against that abortion. Is the challenge/difficulty, or even the degree of trauma, involved in that decision really in the best interests of every woman, particularly given the apparent presumption in one direction of the surrounding medical care? Is this a choice that women should really be asked to make?

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