A warning against private Down’s syndrome tests

A new report has been released expressing concern about NIPT tests offered by private clinics

A report by The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, who advises on ethical issues, has raised concern about Down’s syndrome tests carried out by private clinics. Whilst many provide a good service, some don’t offer enough advice and support. Not all clinics make it clear that NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing) offers only an estimate of Down’s syndrome risk and is not diagnostic. The advertising doesn’t always point out that the test can vary in its accuracy, and it may even give a false reading. This is particularly important when you consider that some women may choose to terminate a pregnancy depending on the test’s result.

NIPT involves taking a blood sample from the woman to look for DNA from the baby circulating in her blood. Doctors can then work out the risk of possible genetic conditions affecting the baby, including Downs. The test can also be used to determine the sex of the baby; this alone is big business for some private clinics in the UK.

Nonetheless, the Nuffield Council have called for a ban on testing undertaken for gender purposes only. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: “We should be absolutely clear that there is no peer-reviewed evidence of sex-selective abortion taking place in the UK. Where any woman is under pressure to produce a male child, the ethical answer is not to deny every pregnant woman the right to find out information about her own pregnancy, but to do our utmost to ensure gender equality and access to comprehensive women’s support services so that women can make their own choice about their pregnancy free from coercion.”

NIPT tests for high-risk women will be rolled out across the NHS next year.