Stuff.co.nz 5 August 2012
Just a drop of a mother’s blood can unlock an unborn child’s genetic code and reveal thousands of potential defects, from autism to schizophrenia. Now, a New Zealand-born scientist is predicting that the business of testing unborn babies for genetic disorders is on the verge of a boom.
Professor Armand Leroi, of Imperial College, London, told an international science forum in Dublin that the cost of unravelling an unborn child’s genetic code would drop dramatically within a decade. This opens up the prospect of routine testing for 3500 genetic conditions through a simple blood and saliva test of parents, and has prompted international uproar and claims of eugenics. But the highly emotive debate over genetic testing is already playing out in New Zealand, with potentially international repercussions.
Mike Sullivan, spokesman for parent group Saving Down, is calling for an end to abortions carried out on foetuses carrying the Down syndrome marker. The group held a eugenics seminar in Auckland yesterday. Sullivan, who has a young daughter with Down syndrome, is taking the group’s fight against genetic testing to one of the highest courts in the world. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has agreed to hold a preliminary inquiry into the antenatal screening programme in New Zealand, he said, something which could have implications both here and overseas. Saving Down wants any screening programme that prevents the birth of Down syndrome babies to be banned.
The Ministry of Health told the Sunday Star-Times that it has not received any notification or communication from the ICC. Sullivan said he was also concerned by scientific advances allowing parents to have terminations if the unborn child had a variety of conditions, from asthma to autism. “We’re getting discrimination down to a science. It’s a game changer. It has pretty tragic implications in how we respect human difference in that quest for what is perfect.”