Iceland Has Nearly Eliminated Down Syndrome--Through Abortion

Annabel Scott | August 15, 2017 | 2:26pm EDT
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A young girl with Down syndrome.


( -- With the continuous evolution of prenatal screening technology, it is no surprise that the number of children born with Down syndrome is declining, but Iceland -- through the use of abortion­ – apparently is on the brink of completely eradicating the disorder from their society or at least killing off all the unborn children with the condition.

According to CBS, since the introduction of prenatal screening tests in the early 2000s, almost 100 percent of pregnant Icelandic women carrying a child who tested positive for Down syndrome opted for an abortion.

Although children born with the genetic disorder can have a range of developmental issues, many live healthy and full lives with an average lifespan of 60 years. 

The Combination Test, which uses an ultrasound, blood test, and the mother's age, detects if a fetus will have the chromosome abnormality associated with Down syndrome. 

A young girl with Down syndrome. (Screenshot.) 

Although the Icelandic government does not require expecting mothers to take the prenatal screening test that detects Down syndrome, the Landspitali University Hospital in the capital Reykjavik says around 80 to 85 percent of expecting mothers chose to be screened voluntarily.

Bergthori Einarsdottir, an expectant mother, said that because many other women took the test, she felt the need to do so.

"It was not pressure, but they told me that most women did it," she said. "It did affect me maybe a little bit." 

Icelandic law permits abortion after 16 weeks (4 months) only if the fetus is deformed, allowing for the termination of Down syndrome children.

Only one to two Down syndrome children are born in Iceland annually. With a screening test accuracy level of 85%, some attribute the mother’s decision to keep the child to inaccurate test results.

"Babies with Down syndrome are still being born in Iceland," said head of the Prenatal Diagnosis Unit at Landspitali University Hospital, Hulda Hjartardottir.

"Some of them were low risk in our screening test, so we didn't find them in our screening,” she said.

Thordis Ingadottir, a mother of one of three Down syndrome babies born in Iceland in 2009, was told the odds of her child having the disorder were a slim 1 in 1600. Since the birth of her daughter Agusta, who is now 7-years-old, she has become a Down syndrome activist.

Helga Sol Olafsdottir.

(Research Gate.

"I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That's my dream," Ingadottir said about her daughter. "Isn't that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?"

Helga Sol Olafsdottir, a Landspitali University Hospital counselor, helps woman decide their course of action when their child has been diagnosed with the disorder.

"This is your life,” she tells patients. “You have the right to choose how your life will look like."

“We don't look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication … preventing suffering for the child and for the family,” Olafsdottir continued. “I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder -- that's so black and white. Life isn't black and white. Life is grey."

Geneticist Kari Stefansson, who has studied much of the Icelandic population's genomes, is critical of the country’s approach to children with the disorder.

"It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling and I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable.”

Actress Patricia Heaton. (Screenshot, Live Action) 

"I don't think there's anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children,” he said, “but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision."

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter to condemn Iceland for the lack of value they place on the life of a child with the disorder.

“Truly sad. News celebrating Iceland's 100% termination rate for children w/ Downs Syndrome. Downs children should be cherished, not ended,” tweeted Cruz.

Actress Patricia Heaton joined Cruz in his criticism, tweeting, “Iceland isn't actually eliminating Down Syndrome. They're just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.‪#Downsyndrome  ‪#abortion

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