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Series 1, Episode 18 The Big Uneasy 17 Apr 14 00:40:43

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Q+A: The Panel discuss new prenatal tests

Published: 3:10PM Sunday March 31, 2013 Source: Q+A

PANEL DISCUSSION 2

Hosted by SUSAN WOOD

In response to NEW PRENATAL TESTS

SUSAN

Welcome back to the panel, Jon Johansson, Deborah Coddington and Matt McCarten. Any hint of eugenics in there, Deborah, you're seeing?

DEBORAH CODDINGTON - Political Commentator

Well, his definition - you could apply that to every time someone uses contraception, and it's such a loaded word. I mean, and to me, it just puts a guilt-trip on every woman who has that test, I think. It would be a terrible decision for them to go through anyway, and I just would not put that guilt-trip on to anyone.

SUSAN

Oh, I think you probably all agree it's a woman's right to choose.

DEBORAH

Yeah.

DR JON JOHANSSON - Political Scientist, Victoria University

I have a really really strong view that it's absolutely none of my business.

DEBORAH

None of my business.

JON

It's wholly and solely a woman's right to choose.

SUSAN

But what is interesting, and I think we saw the Disability Commissioner this point, Matt, is that the ethics haven't caught up with the medicine, if you like.

MATT MCCARTEN - National Secretary, Unite Union

No, that's right, and I think that's what you wrestle with because, you know, where does it stop? You know, when you talk about Down's syndrome, for a woman to be told, you're talking about 80% to 90% decide to terminate. It's kind of a no-brainer. You know, you kind of get that.

SUSAN

Although, I've thought about it a lot this week.

MATT

No, no, no. You understand it, but now, you see, you get the designer-babies stuff. You know, where does that-? Okay, what about a problem with the heart with the child? What about then asthma? How about blue eyes?

DEBORAH

There's a very-

MATT

That's where the ethical decisions-

DEBORAH

There's a very low uptake of the test at the moment, I understand.

MATT

Yes, I know, but this is about the future. You're talking about-

SUSAN

About half, 55% of New Zealand women go through some sort of screening, and the things with these sort of tests, you know, when you're talking about an amnio or those which are invasive and have really big risks of miscarriage, these sort of tests won't eventually and there'll be blood and they'll be a lot easier to go through. So it is a conversation point, for example, in the UK, you've got a hundred babies a year, they say, being aborted cleft palate, club foot. I mean-

JON

But, I mean, you know, in a way, humans have always grappled with these sorts of choices, right? And there is always going to be more and better information on which to make an informed choice. And, I mean, we also strongly uphold the idea that women should be given as much information as they can to make informed choices about their own bodies. So, you know, I mean, I did do a little bit of research into Down's syndrome, and one of the things I think is the most delightful article I read was If Down's Syndrome People Ruled the World. Well, politics would be ruled out because they are unfailingly honest and open, so they'd be pants at politics.

LAUGHTER

MATT

At business and management-

JON

They're also very good at-

DEBORAH

Look, I think that people who have designer babies would be a very very small majority. I have such faith in human- Minority -I'm mixing my words today, aren't I?

SUSAN

It's early. It's Sunday. It's Easter.

DEBORAH

But I think that there will always be a majority of really good people who- Like, when I had my babies, none of the screening was available. You hoped for the best, but you knew that whatever came out, you would love them, you know, unconditionally whatever. And, you know, I mean-

JON

And I also remember back in the day when we had residential homes. A lot of Down's syndrome children were in there. The heartbreak of when the residential home people would go out and pick up the milk in the morning, there'd be a Down's baby left at the letter box. So, you know, don't tell me that everybody cares and shares and looks after them either, you know.

SUSAN

But, Matt, it's interesting with society, isn't it, because you clean out, if you like, what we might regard as abnormal. It doesn't make us a kinder or a better society. I could put a pretty good argument up, having done some research this week on Down's babies and children, that they actually add to society. There is, and it's not just a cliché, that love and that warmth, and also it brings out the best in other people.

MATT

All the families I know - three families I know - with Down's syndrome children in them, they think it's a positive experience. They think it's wonderful. The fear that most of them have, like other families with disabled children, they worry when they're 50 and 60 years old and older. People are too scared of what will happen they die.

JON

Yeah.

MATT

And so it is part of the conversation. There's no one answer. You know, it's one of those difficult things in society which we'll wrestle with forever.

SUSAN

And the law will never really keep up with-

DEBORAH

He wanted the law changed so that you couldn't abort Down's syndrome, but they also screen for Turner's, Edward's and something called Patau syndrome.

SUSAN

Oh, there's a lot. Spina bifida.

DEBORAH

And the parents of those children-

JON

Huntington's chorea.

DEBORAH

say that they love those children too and they've added to their lives, so do you exclude them from abortion as well?

MATT

And in the end it just comes down to women have got to be empowered to make those choices.

DEBORAH

Make those choices, and we can't put our judgement on them, I don't think.

MATT

The state can't rule for them.

SUSAN

Very good. We'll leave it there.

NZ Medical Journal: Testing times - Do new prenatal tests signal the end of Down Syndrome? -http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/126-1370/5545/content.pdf

Saving Downs - http://www.savingdowns.com/

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