Babies with disabilities need protection, says bioethics centre director

23 Jun 2011 | BIOETHICS

In a society where disability is feared, certain groups of persons, such as those with Down syndrome, require additional protections in order to uphold their right to life, says John Kleinsman, Director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre – The Nathaniel Centre.

“Prenatal testing must respect the right to life of the unborn child. At the same time we have to consider the pressure parents are under” says Mr Kleinsman.

In 2008 the Bioethics Council (now disbanded) carried out extensive consultation with New Zealanders on the question of prenatal testing. Among the findings released in its report to Government the Council members highlighted the pressure many couples experience upon receiving their test results to make very rapid decisions.

“All too often, whether overtly or covertly, termination of pregnancy is presented as the automatic option after a test result indicating a disorder. As a result parents feel pressure to terminate children with Down syndrome and other disabilities”.

“This pressure comes at a time when couples are already extremely vulnerable,” says Mr Kleinsman. “It is of great concern that couples speak of encountering pressure from the health system to terminate a pregnancy on the basis of genetic test results”.

“In this environment it will become increasingly difficult for couples to exercise a choice not to be tested or to continue with a pregnancy in the light of test results indicating a disorder. Our role, as parents, is to welcome our children in an unconditional way – this is what love demands”.