Downs Pregnancies Up But Downs Births Steady


ch1_trisomyResearchers in England have noted that although the number of pregnancies where the fetus has been identified as having Downs Syndrome has increased notably — from 1,075 in 1990 in England and Wales to 1,843 in 2008 — the number of births has stayed virtually constant.  In fact, the number of babies born with Downs went from 752 to 743 — a decrease of slightly over 1%.  So, what’s up with that?  Why more pregnancies, but births remain the same?

The rise in the number of Down’s pregnancies is attributed to the increase in older women getting pregnant.  Due to improvements in screening methods, however, more women are able to choose to abort the pregnancy, resulting in the number of births remaining steady.  “What we’re seeing here,” explains Joan Morris, professor of medical statistics at Queen Mary and lead researcher on the study, “is a steep rise in pregnancies with Down’s syndrome but that is being offset by improvements in screening.  It was thought that these improvements would lead to a decrease in the number of births with Down’s syndrome. However, due to increases in maternal age this has not occurred.”

Advocates for those with Down’s syndrome, however, say that more education is needed and that if parents understood the reality of the condition, there would be far fewer abortions.  “You’re led to believe that it’s the worst thing that could possibly ever happen to you,” says Eddie Batha, whose daughter was born with Down’s.  “And then you realise it’s just another human being who happens to be a little bit different.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she took a test which she thought showed that our son had Down’s — we later learned that the test only showed an increased chance, high enough that the doctors performed an amniocentesis to find out for sure.  Although it turned out that our son did not have Down’s, I’ll never forget the phone call from my wife telling me that Jared had Down’s.  I don’t know what we would have eventually done, had the amnio proved positive, but abortion was certainly an option.

It’s a tough call — Down’s syndrome is certainly no walk in the park, but neither is it the end of the world.  I don’t know that I am strong enough to take that on, but certainly other parents, better parents than I, can and do.  What do you think?

Photo: National Institute of General Medical Sciences