Since the early 2000s, prenatal tests have been offered to pregnant mothers in Iceland to rule out genetic mutations such as Down syndrome. Consequently, the rate of babies born with genetic abnormalities has significantly dropped. Almost 100% of approximately 80 – 85% of the people who received a positive notion of a Down Syndrome baby choose to terminate the pregnancy.

This is to say, Iceland hasn’t found a method to cure the disease; rather, having foetuses that carry the Trisomy 21 anomaly aborted – as an explanation for the almost non-existent population of those with Down Syndrome in the country.

Iceland not alone in saying bye-bye baby

Down Syndrome, which was first discovered by a French physician in 1959, affects about 6 million people worldwide. In Iceland, expectant mothers are not mandated to undergo the prenatal tests. However, the government makes sure mothers are made aware of its existence and their option. A vast number – almost 85% – of the women will opt to take the tests, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavík, where 70% of Iceland’s births take place.

With 100% of the pregnancies that tested positive for Down Syndrome being aborted, Iceland sees only two Down Syndrome births every year in the past few years. This is credited to false negative results from parents who were deemed at low risk of having Down Syndrome babies, or from the 15% of women who had opted to skip the prenatal tests.

Other countries around the world that are on the same abortion bandwagon as Iceland – including Denmark, with 98% of Down Syndrome foetus terminations (2015), United Kingdom with 90% terminations, France with 77% terminations (2015) and United States with 67% terminations (1995 – 2011).

In retrospect, Iceland has a small population of only 330,000 people – as compared to the highly populated United States, which sees 6,000 Down Syndrome births each year.

The Combination Test will take into account the mother’s age, results from a blood test and ultrasound examination to identify any deformities in the growing foetus. The government of Iceland legalises abortions of foetuses 16 weeks and older if genetic anomalies are found, including Down syndrome.

What complete eradication of Down Syndrome means

People with Down Syndrome carry distinctive facial features and are deemed to have lower quality of life due to development delays that come with the disorder. Other complications might also arise later in their lives. Thus, after counselling and research, parents might choose to abort the pregnancy to avoid anticipating the unknown.

When asked what eradication of Down Syndrome in Iceland means, geneticist Kari Stefansson from deCODE Genetics, a company that has studied all of Icelandic population’s genomes said, “it reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counselling. And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counselling is desirable. You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way."

Some mothers are feeling pressured into aborting since it was what everyone with the same fate did. Encouraging abortions also seemed counter intuitive with medicine’s purpose of healing and rectifying – almost likened to running out of options in treatment and research.

Despite the stigma, people with Down Syndrome can live happy, fruitful lives up to 60 years of age. In a 2011 study (which was also published in American Journal of Medical Genetics) by Brian Skotko, a Harvard-trained physician and researcher, people with Down Syndrome were found to have a very high level of satisfaction in their lives – and are generally very happy people. Similarly, family members of people with Down Syndrome also rank high in levels of personal fulfilment. It then boils down to shifting perceptions about Down Syndrome to give each pregnancy a chance to come to term. MIMS

Read more:
Will BMA’s proposal to “decriminalise abortion-on-demand” go through; how will it affect Malaysian laws?
3 children affected by rare diseases
US doctor ordered to stop marketing three-parent baby technique