The 8th amendment has saved thousands of lives, particularly of those who are disabled. Let’s consider the specific case of babies with Down Syndrome, also known as trisomy 21.
In England and Wales ninety percent of those who are diagnosed before birth with Down Syndrome are aborted and there is a growing concern that these appalling figures might even go higher, as it has happened in other countries. Recently, the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign was launched in the UK to oppose the implementation of earlier forms of prenatal genetic screening, which would inevitably lead to more Down Syndrome babies being killed before birth.
Rapid advancements in genetics research and in screening technologies are tools that can be used for good or bad purposes. Genetic screening can be useful. For instance, knowing in advance that someone will be born with disabilities or limiting conditions might help their family in getting prepared to welcome and take care of them after birth. But at the same time, there is always the very high risk that this kind of screening will be used for eugenics, i.e. the selection of the fittest and the termination of the life of those who are not deemed healthy enough. In order to avoid this risk we need proper legislation that guarantees the protection of the weakest. This kind of protection is precisely one of the many positive effects of the 8th amendment, without which we would see more and more Down Syndrome babies being aborted.
The issue of disabled unborn children has been raised at the Citizens’ Assembly by Dr Peter McParland, who is the Director of Fetal Maternal Medicine at the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin and Associate Clinical Professor at UCD. Talking about a new technology for genetic screening he claimed that: “The impact of this type of testing in other countries has been huge. In Iceland, no babies have been born with Down Syndrome in the last four or five years. There is a State sponsored funded system where all mothers are offered this test and all mothers are availing of the test and all mothers when they are diagnosed with this problem are availing of a termination of pregnancy. And in Denmark in the past four or five years there have been only a handful of babies with Down Syndrome born. … So this is the way the rest of the world is going.”
At the end of his presentation he makes some very important remarks about women travelling abroad for an abortion: “why are they going over to have a termination of pregnancy? Well, again, they gave a comprehensive breakdown of Irish figures. 69 go over because of chromosome problems. And the biggest group by far is Down Syndrome. 40 with Down Syndrome. I don’t think anyone here would say that this is a fatal, lethal, life-limiting condition. Though Down Syndrome babies now live till their 50s or 60s, they might not live as long as the normal life spam, maybe into their 80s now, but 40 of these are for Down Syndrome. If you think of the figures I said to you earlier on about Iceland and Denmark, we would expect to have about 100 babies born with Down Syndrome in Ireland. Now, not all babies with Down Syndrome in the womb would survive the pregnancy. It is reasonable to assume that a third would probably die in the womb, but you are left perhaps with 30 babies with Down Syndrome and who could have been born in Ireland and are not been born in Ireland. We are not Iceland and we are not Denmark but there is a trend there.”
He repeats the same arguments during the Questions and Answers session.
We are already losing 30 Down Syndrome babies per year in Ireland. Changing the Constitution will only make things worse. Those who want a referendum on the 8th amendment sometime claim that more services for families is the answer to selective abortion that targets the disabled. However, while it is obviously true that more services would be beneficial to families who struggle with disabilities, killing unborn children with disabilities would reduce demands for disability services which would then be further starved of resources.
Also, Nordic countries like Denmark and Iceland were renowned for their generous welfare states, but this hasn’t prevented the almost total extermination of Down Syndrome people from those countries. According to a survey mentioned by the Copenhagen Post, the majority of Danes see the steep drop in Down Syndrome births as a positive development. Sixty percent believe it was good there were considerably fewer children with trisomy 21 being born.
Dr Hans Galjaard, a famous professor of human genetics who is considered the Dutch father of prenatal diagnostics, in a 2014 radio interview affirmed that Down Syndrome has to disappear from society. Only recently the Dutch Minister of Health, Mrs. Schippers, was asked if she planned to take any measures to prevent the Danish and Icelandic scenario from happening in the Netherlands. Mrs. Schippers answered: “If freedom of choice results in a situation that nearly no children with Down syndrome are being born, society should accept that”.
This is the logical and inevitable consequence of the pro-choice attitude and there is no way to prevent this happening if the constitutional protection of the unborn is removed through a referendum.
Where the unborn is not protected, genetic screening leads to the progressive eradication of disabled children. Eugenics, in other words.