New prenatal screening of Down syndrome: the ethical denial of the CCNE

Publié le : 26 April 2013

On Thursday 25 April, the National Consultative Committee on Ethics released its paper no.120 entitled: "Ethical questions linked to the development of foetal genetic tests on maternal blood."

In this paper, the CCNE says that it is favourable to the progressive introduction of the new “very early” foetal test capable of screening trisomy 21, 13 and 18 by analysing foetal cells circulating in the maternal blood. It considers that this constitutes "progress from the ethical point of view." This opinion scandalises the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune, prime funder for Down syndrome research in France. In a press release it "denounces the absence of any overall reflection on or criticism of systematic screening which ‘leads, for medical reasons, to the eradication of almost a total population.’" In fact, over 90% of Down syndrome children are eradicated today before birth. This reality, according to the Foundation, requires a further level of analysis rather than setting "as the sole barrier [to the commercialisation of these tests] the question of their technical performance and cost" or "putting a higher value on the life of a healthy child (spared thanks to the non-invasive test) over that of a Down syndrome child (inevitably eliminated)."
And this is precisely what Prof. Didier Sicard mentioned in 2007, when he was the president of this Committee: "the central truth (…) of the activity of prenatal screening is that it is designed for elimination rather than treatment: so this screening is geared to a terrifying perspective: eradication."

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