Fact Check: Can Iceland Really Eradicate Down Syndrome?

Last week, CBS News shared an incredible story coming out of Iceland. The headline included the words, “Inside the country where Down Syndrome is disappearing,” and the CBS tweet that followed heralded the news, “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.”

News outlets and organizations from all corners of the earth ran with the information in “breaking news” fashion, and it is no surprise that the story went viral. It feels celebratory. Who wouldn’t want to see or celebrate the end of what the medical community calls “a chromosomal disorder”? This is certainly positive news for researchers and parents alike. There is little question that many people with Down syndrome face unique challenges and limitations that, at times, can negatively affect their daily life. The idea that Down syndrome could be eradicated–meaning individuals could lead healthy, vibrant lives–is nearly miraculous.

Except, many of these news outlets didn’t focus on the fact that Iceland’s method for eradicating Down syndrome is abortion.

As is often the case for stories with salacious titles or extraordinary claims, the real story coming out of Iceland is more complicated than any of these headlines suggest.

Iceland’s history of prenatal screening

For the past 15 years, Iceland has offered all expectant mothers in the country prenatal screening.

According to various reports, nearly 85% of pregnant women agree to take advantage of this prenatal testing, and nearly every woman who agrees to the prenatal screening and learns that she is carrying a child with Down syndrome opts to get an abortion. The remaining 15% of women who choose not to pursue optional prenatal screening give birth–on occasion–to a child with Down syndrome, but this is rare and growing more rare all the time.

Thus the claims that Down syndrome is on its way out of the country.

What Iceland is not doing with regard to Down Syndrome

As last week’s story went viral, various news outlets began running with headlines such as, “Iceland kills 100% of babies with Down syndrome in abortion: New report.” Christians and conservatives understandably grew outraged at the suggestion that Iceland would mandate abortions for children with Down syndrome.

But the truth is slightly different. At this time, women in Iceland who opt to abort their child are doing so by personal choice. The truth is important as spreading misinformation discredits and actually contributes to unhelpful distraction.

This week, news outlets and debunkers are focusing on the reality that Iceland does not mandate abortions for women carrying children with Down syndrome.

What Iceland is doing with regard to Down Syndrome

Assuming the eradication of Down syndrome is a brilliant medical innovation–and celebrating it as such–actually distracts from the reality that women in Iceland are growing increasingly comfortable aborting children because of the presence of Down syndrome. And other countries–including the United States–are not too far behind. Currently, approximately 67% of women in the U.S. choose to abort if prenatal screening tests positive for the presence of Down syndrome.

While abortion is not mandatory in Iceland at this point, it is difficult to deny that the story coming out of CBS last week is shocking and appalling for anyone who believes children are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator God. Further, it is disturbing that any news article or reporter could casually use a term like “eradicating Down syndrome births” when what it actually means is “killing unborn children who possess an additional chromosome through no fault of their own.”

There is nothing innovative or spectacular (or even progressive) about ending the lives of people who possess a trait or characteristic endowed to them by biology. Historically, the term “genocide” has referred to the systematic and barbaric extermination of a group of people. “Ableism” is the term referring to the discrimination against people groups due to disability.

Administering prenatal testing for the purpose of weeding out children who may (or may not–as testing sometimes gets this information wrong) possess a chromosomal disorder is not innovation. The creativity merely exists in the terminology being used to define it.

There is an appalling difference between eradicating Down syndrome and exterminating unwanted children.

Bottom line: Iceland cannot eradicate Down syndrome until it has the ability to create living molecules and breathe life into dust. And as far as the Bible informs science, it is safe to assume Iceland will never have that power. Eradicating Down syndrome and aborting unborn children who have Down syndrome will always be two vastly different things.

~ Christian Patriot Daily


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