The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging doctors to take a positive, more life-affirming approach to families whose unborn babies have been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
In newly published guidelines, the medical group instructs doctors who are giving news about a Down syndrome diagnosis to encourage and direct families to resources, not present an all doom-and-gloom prospect for the child’s life, Live Action News reports.
“When providing information about Down syndrome to families, the physician should first congratulate parents on the birth of their infant,” the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote.
The academy instructs doctors to refer to the baby by name and offer up-to-date, accurate information about the genetic disorder as well as support groups and other resources for people with Down syndrome.
Jenny Di Benedetto, founding director of medical outreach at Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network, said her organization has been encouraging medical organizations to update their guidelines like this for years.
“For [EIGHT] YEARS, we advocated and, this week, when we were least expecting it, the medical community showed us that they listened. They heard us, they agreed with us, and they are advocating alongside us,” Benedetto said in a statement to Live Action. “We specifically asked for prenatal medical care guidelines for a Down syndrome pregnancy, and to connect families to national and local support organizations as soon as possible.”
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The new guidelines will go a long way toward ending discrimination against unborn babies with disabilities in the medical community. Frequently, parents say their doctors or genetic counselors pressured them to abort their unborn babies after a Down syndrome diagnosis.
According to ABC News Australia, a recent study by Down Syndrome Australia found that “half of new parents faced discrimination and neglect from medical professionals during and after prenatal screenings.” One family told the news outlet that their doctor scheduled an abortion before even telling them that their unborn baby had Down syndrome.
Another mother from Scotland told the Daily Record that she was offered an abortion at 37 weeks of pregnancy, almost full term, because her son has Down syndrome. And British mother Emma Mellor told the BBC that she was pressured to abort her unborn daughter 15 times, including right up to the moment of her baby’s birth.
Live Action News reports the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines tell doctors to “leave out their own personal biases” and “emphasize the positive aspects of Down syndrome, including improved medical outcomes and the fact that people with Down syndrome and their families overwhelmingly report being happy with themselves and their lives.”
The medical group also instructs doctors to discuss the diagnosis in a “non-directive” way, meaning they should not pressure pregnant mothers to consider abortion.
Discrimination against unborn babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities is a huge problem. According to the Atlantic, in Denmark, 95 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. Several years ago, CBS News reported nearly 100 percent of unborn babies who test positive for Down syndrome are aborted in Iceland. The rate in France was 77 percent in 2015, 90 percent in the UK and between 67 and 90 percent in the United States.
These extremely high rates of discrimination have many families speaking up about the value of children with disabilities and the need to provide better, life-affirming support after a prenatal diagnosis.