Terminations of babies with Down syndrome in England

Last weekend, the UK Sunday Times reported that many terminations of babies with Down syndrome are not being correctly recorded by the Department of Health. In many reports that have since appeared online it has been stated that in England 92% of babies with Down syndrome are terminated. This is incorrect.

You would think from some of the reports and comment that have appeared online in the past week that the births of virtually all babies with Down syndrome in England are prevented through prenatal screening and selective terminations. This is not the case:

It is true that 92% of diagnosed pregnancies are terminated. However, this is very different from 92% of all pregnancies. Many people choose not to screen. Many who are screened and receive a ‘high risk’ result choose not to have invasive diagnostic testing as it carries a risk of miscarriage. Some who are screened and do not receive a ‘high risk’ result will, in fact, go on to have a baby with Down syndrome.

Overall, the rate at which live births are reduced due to prenatal diagnosis and selective terminations in England and Wales in recent years was around 50%-55%.

6 thoughts on “Terminations of babies with Down syndrome in England

  1. Thanks for putting the right data out there Frank. We work hard to message this correctly, and your data matches ours. We will get this out on our social media.

    1. Thanks Mike. I think it is important that these statistics are not misinterpreted. Misinterpretations of the 92% statistic can lead to the (incorrect) conclusion that nearly everyone chooses to prenatally select against babies with below average intelligence and elevated risks of (largely) treatable health issues.

  2. I agree that it’s important to recognise exactly what the 92% figure refers to. Regardless, though, it still remains the most pertinent figure to illustrate the prevalence and impact of prenatal discrimination against babies with Down syndrome.

    1. Respectfully, I disagree. With informed consent, you might expect the rate at which prenatally diagnosed babies are terminated to be near 100%. Why risk a risky invasive procedure if you do not plan to terminate give a confirmed diagnosis? As such, the 92% figure is not an accurate indicator of attitudes towards people with Down syndrome. Using it as such (incorrectly) suggests that the ‘normal’ thing to do is to screen, diagnose and terminate. The (important) facts that many people do not opt for screening and that many do not accept invasive diagnostics given a ‘high risk’ screen result is hidden when the 92% statistic is used in ways likely to be misinterpreted.

  3. Absolutely. It is often the ‘of diagnosed pregnancies’ that is omitted. The stats for recording the terminations wrongly, as ‘social abortions’ rather than for DS is rather worrying though.

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