More mothers reject abortion to have babies with Down's syndrome
MORE babies are being born with Down's syndrome than before pre-natal screening for the disorder was introduced at the end of the 1980s, it was revealed yesterday.
Parents appear more willing to bring a Down's child into the world than they used to be, research shows.
Many are taking the decision because those affected by the syndrome are more accepted in society today and their quality of life has improved, according to a new survey.
After the widespread introduction of screening for Down's syndrome in 1989, the number of babies born with the condition in the UK fell from 717 to 594 at the start of this decade.
But since 2000, the birthrate has increased, reaching 749 in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available.
Figures from a national Down's syndrome register show that the proportion of newborn children with Down's rose by around 15 per cent between 2000 and 2006.
About one in every 1,000 babies has Down's syndrome, an incurable genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome.
Its physical effects include a characteristic "flat" face and slanting eyes, short stature, heart defects, and poor sight and hearing. People with Down's also have moderate to severe degrees of learning disability.
A blood test or ultrasound scan is used to tell if a pregnant woman is at risk of having a child with Down's syndrome.
This can be followed by more invasive tests which take samples of fluid from the womb or placental tissue to show definitively if a child has the syndrome.
At either stage, a decision may be taken whether or not to continue with the pregnancy.
The Down's Syndrome Association, in conjunction with the BBC, conducted a survey of 1,000 of its members to find out why so many were choosing to have Down's children despite the availability of pre-natal screening.
The findings show that while religious or pro-life beliefs counted in about a third of cases, many parents felt that life and society had improved for people affected by Down's.
Others said their decision was influenced by the fact that they knew people with Down's or other disabilities.
Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, said: "We are all very surprised by this. It wasn't what any of us working in the field would have anticipated and it seems to show more parents are thinking more carefully before opting for pre-natal screening and termination – that being born with Down's syndrome is being seen in a different light today.
"When I and others had our babies, it was a very different world – those with Down's syndrome were treated very differently. Now, there is much greater inclusion and acceptance, with mainstream education having a huge role.
"We think this plays a part in the decisions parents make – there's even been a baby with Down's syndrome on EastEnders."
Pandora Summerfield, director of Down's Syndrome Scotland, said: "We applaud these women who go ahead with their pregnancies.
"It is very heartening to hear that women are making a positive choice because society is more accepting."
High School Musical to Scrabble – meet a remarkable little girl
SEVEN-YEAR-OLD Claire Ferguson has just been to see High School Musical 3: Senior Year and, like many of her friends, enjoys singing along to the hits from the top-selling movie.
She also has a hectic social life and goes to ballet and music classes, swimming and Rainbows – the beginners sessions for the Brownies. Claire enjoys playing games such as children's Scrabble and Monopoly, and invites friends round to play on her trampoline and slide.
But a few weeks before Claire was born, medical staff told her parents, Sheila and Keith Ferguson, from Edinburgh, that a scan had shown the baby had a problem with its intestine which pointed to quite a high chance of Down's syndrome.
Parents Sheila and Keith said that, like most people, they knew very little about the condition. Mrs Ferguson, a communications project manager with the Royal Bank of Scotland, said: "I got the scan at 32 weeks and when we got the news, we were very worried. It is not what you want to hear. But there was no question of us doing anything other than continuing with the pregnancy.
"We were pretty much in the dark but we did find out that children with Down's syndrome could achieve a lot – in fact, do what every other child does but just take longer to get there.
"When we were trying to get pregnant, there had been a lot of difficulties so when I did get pregnant at 39, although screening was recommended, we had decided that whatever the outcome, we would accept it and enjoy it." When Claire was nine months old, Mrs Ferguson returned to work part-time. "We wanted Claire to be with children her own age. Youngsters with Down's syndrome are very visual learners and we felt this would be the best way for her to learn," Mrs Ferguson said.
"I also took Claire to playgroup because, as a mum, it was important for me that we were in contact with babies with typical development. We built up quite close relationships there and I think it was also an eye-opener for other parents about what children like Claire could do."
Claire is a pupil at Fox Covert primary school in Edinburgh, where she has one-to-one support. Mr Ferguson, a risk consultant at HBOS, added: "The way we've done things means people have learned to feel comfortable with Claire, which benefits everyone."
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