‘Bridget Jones’ Actress and Parent of Down Syndrome Child Criticizes New Prenatal Screening

By Lauretta Brown | May 9, 2016 | 2:07pm EDT

Actress Sally Phillips.  (AP) 

( – Actress Sally Phillips, best known for her role in the Bridget Jones movies, spoke out in an interview with the BBC about a new screening technique to detect Down syndrome, which the UK’s Secretary of Health Jeremy Hunt is deciding when and how to implement.

Phillips has an 11-year-old son, Ollie, who has Down syndrome.

“As a parent of someone with Down syndrome I just find this arms race for new technologies a bit upsetting,” Phillips said.

“We talk about ‘Down’ syndrome’ and that’s kind of dehumanizing,” she said. “We need to remember that we’re talking about people, and I think the current narrative about Down syndrome, for whatever reason, is it’s treated as a tragedy and a terribly sad thing.”

Phillips said that when the doctor diagnosed her son’s condition shortly after birth he said, “I’m sorry,” and the nurse cried.

(AP photo.) 

When asked in the BBC interview if she opposed any sort of screening for Down syndrome she said, “I think that is a question to be honest.”

“I mean we need to think as a society, I mean we’re signed up to various human rights acts,” she said.  “We are hoping to move towards a more inclusive society.”

“We do have to ask the question, If you think of people with Down syndrome as being a particular race … then it’s utterly unacceptable, isn’t it?” said Phillips.

“I’m not saying we should definitely to go with that, there’s just a very strong argument and the debate needs to be had,” she explained. “People with Down’s syndrome have never been included in the debate, they’ve never been asked, because of course it’s preposterous to ask a person with Down syndrome – who tend to really enjoy their lives – whether or not they ought to have a life.”

“People assume that the minute a child has any kind of disability that your life is one long, bleak, severed, awful existence full of stresses and strains,” Phillips told the Daily Express.  “But it isn’t.”

“He’s got a big, big heart and he cares about people,” Phillips said of her son. “He’s just less self-obsessed than the rest of us. He’s brilliant and every day he brings more joy.”

“The leaflets that are given out in hospital about Down’s are incredibly misleading and are basically a list of things that can go wrong,” she complained. “Imagine if you had a normal child and you were given a list of things such as, ‘Your child may become a crack addict, your child has a one-in-three chance of dying of cancer’ etc.’”

British Prime Minister David

Cameron, head of the Conservative

Party.  (AP) 

The new screening method is a blood test that would give information about the unborn baby’s genetic profile directly from the mother’s blood sample to detect Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders, reported The Guardian

It is being touted as a way to reduce the number of miscarriages associated with amniocentesis, the current, more invasive screening method.

The Don’t Screen Us Out campaign has been holding rallies outside of parliament protesting implementation of the new screening technique.

Their campaign highlights that the latest figures for England and Wales show that 90% of babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. The campaign estimates that the new screening method would “result in a decline of 13% reported live births of babies with Down’s syndrome.” 

British Prime Minister David Cameron was questioned last week about the concerns raised regarding the screening.

"There are moral and ethical issues that need to be considered in these cases,” Cameron acknowledged, as reported by the Don't Screen Us Out campaign,  “but on the other hand we also have to respect the view that women want to have screening and testing about the health of their children, and we should be in favour of maximum transparency, on the basis that this is optional rather than mandatory, but it is part of routine care.”

"So the Health Secretary is going to have to find a way through this, but, above all, we must make sure we go about it in the right way," Cameron added.

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