Selective Abortion for Down’s Syndrome: Above Average Rate in France


A study has placed France above the European average for having recourse to abortion whenever Down’s Syndrome is detected.

A study published at the end of 2020 in the European Journal of Human Genetics, and recently cited in an editorial, evaluated the population of individuals with Down syndrome people throughout Europe, and the impact of prenatal diagnosis. The authors found that depending on the country, the data in the studies appeared randomly unsystematic, incongruent or absent. Therefore, they based their statistical methods on several factors: the mother’s age, infant mortality and the age pyramid, and the prevalence of Down’s syndrome according to the UN data, in order to standardize numerical assessments for European countries for the period of 2011- 2015.

The study’s main results are dealing with the number of individuals with Down syndrome in Europe in 2015 (417,000 individuals) and especially the impact of prenatal diagnosis on the prevalence of Down syndrome at birth. The authors estimate that for the period of 2011-2015, half of the babies with Down syndrome were aborted.

The estimated European average for abortion was 54% whenever Down syndrome was diagnosed. There were significant variations among the countries, with abortion rates estimated at 20% in Portugal, 50% in Germany, 68% in France and 83% in Spain, compared to 33% in the United States. The prevalence of Down syndrome at birth was 12.9 children per 10,000 births in the US, which increased slightly between 1981 and 2011. In Europe the birth rates for Down syndrome babies have only decreased, suggesting that Europeans systematically have recourse to abortion more frequently when Trisomy 21 is detected.

For France, the calculated rate of 68% differs from other studies, such as that where the Biomedical Agency reported a 77.3% rate of abortions when Down syndrome is diagnosed.

To explain the discrepancies from one country to another, the authors mention causes such as the country’s wealth and abortion policy. But the results also highlight how culture and acceptance of Trisomy 21 can have an impact as well. For example, the abortion rate was 20% in the Netherlands, whereas in Denmark the rate was twice as high at 42%.

The authors point out that non-invasive diagnostic screening tests (NIDS) also appeared to increase abortion rates, based on a report in 2019 showing that test results influenced the choice to resort to abortion.

The study shows that mothers accept more easily a postnatal than a prenatal diagnoses. The study also found that thanks to a better access to healthcare, the life expectancy of people with Down syndrome is increasing particularly in Western Europe.

Every day in France, associations work to improve medical research, to take care of people with disabilities, to give them their righteous place, to promote medical research and job insertion, and change the way people look at those with disabilities. This includes associations such as Trisomy 21 France, “Tombée du Nid”, the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation and the “Café Joyeux”.

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