The push for prenatal diagnostic tests for pregnant mothers just became stronger. Recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists began recommending that every pregnant woman,
regardless of age, be offered a choice of tests to determine whether her baby
has Down Syndrome. The reason for this recommendation is, first of all, that
although the common practice has been to recommend these tests for women over
35, doctors point out that there is no single event that happens at age 35 to
make Down Syndrome more likely. The scale of risk is a continuum.
Secondly, ACOG points out that new methods of
testing have been developed that are less invasive. Their top recommendation
simply involves ultrasound and a blood test.
Aside from the medical questions, however, many
moral questions arise. Are such tests morally permissible? What are they meant
to accomplish? Is undue pressure being placed on pregnant mothers to have these
tests? Is pressure being put on them to abort?
Pope John Paul II addressed the issue of prenatal
diagnosis with these words in “The Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae):
must be given to evaluating the morality of prenatal diagnostic techniques which
enable the early detection of possible anomalies in the unborn child. In view of
the complexity of these techniques, an accurate and systematic moral judgment is
necessary. When they do not involve disproportionate risks for the child and the
mother, and are meant to make possible early therapy or even to favor a serene
and informed acceptance of the child not yet born, these techniques are morally
licit. But since the possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited,
it not infrequently happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic
intention which accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of
children affected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful
and utterly reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human
life only within the parameters of "normality" and physical well-being, thus
opening the way to legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well.
The Church’s approach is quite balanced.
Diagnosis, not immoral in itself, must have a proper purpose and motive. In some
ways, diagnosis advances a culture of life, because the unborn child is medical
science’s newest patient. I have been privileged to participate in conferences
of fetal surgeons, and this branch of medicine can serve life in increasingly
Yet every tool can be used for good or for harm.
Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a strongly pro-life geneticist who discovered the origins of
Down Syndrome, lamented the fact that this knowledge was sometimes being used
for a “search and destroy” mission. And it is no secret that there is a bias
among medical professionals to recommend abortion when test results even a hint
(often mistakenly) of Down Syndrome, as Brian Skotko of the National Down s
Syndrome Congress found out when he surveyed 2,945 mothers of children with this
Let’s stand both for the
advancement of the treatment of the unborn, and against the deadly
mentality that pushes to kill the less than perfect.