‘Screening out’ babies with Down’s syndrome seen as ‘cash cow’ for Chinese firm

A Chinese biotech firm has declared “screening out” babies with Down’s syndrome is a “cash cow” funding the growth of the whole business.

The admission comes from a spokesperson for BGI Group – a Chinese genetics conglomerate whose main business is offering non-invasive prenatal tests, primarily used to diagnose Down’s syndrome. 

In a segment from an Aljazeera documentary titled Genesis 2.0, the spokesperson gestures towards a digital map of the world and says: “You can see clearly, especially for Down’s syndrome, we have nearly two million samples all over the world. This part is, what we call, BGI’s cash cow, making money to support the growth of the whole group.”

Dismissing a query over potential ethical concerns, she coldly adds: “…with the use of our technology, we could avoid the birth of birth defect, like a Down’s syndrome birth, a Down’s syndrome child, we can screen them out, we can avoid the birth of them.”

Responding to the video, parents of those with Down’s syndrome expressed shock and anger at the comments.  

One such mother commented: “She says ‘defect’, I say ‘difference’. That’s all it comes down to. And she had no answer to his questions about ethical implications.”

Another mother tweeted: “Well, we knew this inside, people try to cover it in CHOICE. But really, no. It’s profiting from discrimination. I actually feel sick.”

This isn’t the first time BGI group or it’s co-founder and Chairman, Wang Jian, has courted controversy.

In 2018, the businessman caught the media’s attention for saying in an interview it would be a “disgrace” for any of BGI Group’s 7,000 employees to have a child with a birth ‘defect’.

Wang said: “It would mean that we are fooling society and just eyeing others’ pockets.” He added that there are no known serious congenital diseases among the 1,400 infants that have been born to the company’s employees.

Wang doesn’t just want to eliminate children with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities, he also wants to promote a eugenicist mindset across the whole of China and prevent those with “a worrisome combination of genes” from having babies.

In the same interview, he said: “China has 85 million disabled [people], and 70 to 80% of these disabilities are from birth defects.

“We can really prevent this. We can do pre-marriage testing – to flag relationships in which partners carry a worrisome combination of genes – and prepregnant, prenatal.”

BGI Group’s core fertility business, BGI Genomics, generated more than half of the company’s revenue according to the company’s annual report.

The company claims it had processed over 4 million non-invasive prenatal tests globally by the end of 2018.

In its annual report, BGI group said “[translation] various product lines have been established in various fields of birth defect prevention” and expressed a desire to “expand” to prenatally diagnose for deafness and other genetic abnormalities.  

Figures published last year found the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced new non-invasive prenatal tests.

The release of the figures came shortly after the release of a report revealing that pregnant mothers who refuse to abort their children with Down’s syndrome are being pressured by some medical professionals to change their decision.

Currently, 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome identified in the womb are aborted in England, Wales and Scotland.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Our current law allows babies with Down’s syndrome to be aborted right through to birth. Already 90% of babies diagnosed in the womb with Down’s syndrome are aborted in Great Britain.

“The Government has previously admitted that no assessment was made of the impact the roll-out of non-invasive prenatal tests will have on the lives of people with Down’s syndrome. In an answer to a parliamentary question the Department of Health confirmed that ‘…no assessment was made of the impact of NIPT on the number of abortions, Down’s syndrome community and medical professional and society’s attitudes towards people with Down’s syndrome.’

“Now there is clear evidence the tests are leading to more babies with Down’s syndrome being aborted it’s time that the Government pulled the rollout, and stopped being a ‘cash cow’ for companies like BGI.”

“Our culture’s narrative of celebrating diversity and championing inclusion amount to nothing but empty words when as a society we develop and promote tests whose foreseeable consequence is the elimination of people with certain types of diversity.

“The fact that the birth rate of babies with Down syndrome has already fallen by 30% in hospitals where the test has been rolled out is scandalous and confirms campaigners’ fears.”

Down’s syndrome campaigner urges NI politicians to reject ‘discriminatory’ abortion laws

A campaigner with Down’s syndrome has urged Stormont to reject “hurtful and offensive” laws allowing abortion up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot and Down’s syndrome, in Northern Ireland.

Last year, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose an extreme abortion regime on the province.

The Government was not required to introduce abortion for cleft lip, or other disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, to Northern Ireland.

Yet, to the dismay of disability advocacy groups, those with disabilities and their families, the Conservative Government have now introduced disability-selective abortion right up to birth.

The new regime, which also allows de facto abortion for any reason up to 24-weeks, came into force as law on 31 March.

An influential House of Lords Committee has released report which is highly critical of the new regulations.

Now, ahead of a parliamentary vote on the abortion regulations next week, Heidi Crowter has written to political party leaders in Northern Ireland requesting they reject any regulations from Westminster that allow discriminatory disability-selective abortions right up to birth.

In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph, the 24-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome said: “Boris Johnson’s Government did not have to introduce abortion for babies with Down’s syndrome up to birth to Northern Ireland. They chose to do this.

“That’s both hurtful and offensive. My life has as much value as anyone else’s.

“I am asking all MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) to reject Westminster’s regulations – please don’t vote for more discrimination against people like me.”

She added: “Do not make the mistake which was made in Great Britain in allowing discrimination against people like me just because we happen to have Down’s syndrome.

“Please let Northern Ireland continue to be a country where disabled people are valued.

“Please do not let a law come into practice which will end lives on the basis of disability and stop people like me coming into the world.”

Earlier this year, Heidi launched a landmark case against the UK Government over the discriminatory abortion law that allows disability-selective abortion right up to birth in England, Wales & Scotland.

Heidi’s legal challenge has generated widespread support from those with first-hand experience of Down’s syndrome, pro-life campaigners, disability advocates and more.

Over 4,200,000 people have watched Heidi tell Channel 5 the current law is “deeply offensive” and many more have seen her tell the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that the current law makes her feel “unloved and unwanted”.

Her campaign has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media with people adding #ImWithHeidi to their posts.The mothers of children born with a cleft lip have also spoken out in horror against the new regime.

Babies with Down’s syndrome could be protected under proposed pro-life law in Poland

Poland’s parliament will consider pro-life legislation this week seeking to protect unborn babies from disability-selective abortion.

Unlike most of Europe, Poland protects unborn babies from abortion in most circumstances. Terminations are only permissible after rape or incest, if the mother’s life is at risk, or in cases of foetal abnormality – including Down’s syndrome.

The proposed legislation would remove the last provision and protect unborn babies from discriminatory disability-selective abortions.

Polling within the country has revealed there is strong support for pro-life measures in the country. A CBOS poll found that 75% of Polish people think abortion is “always wrong and can never be justified”. Meanwhile, only 7% thought there was “nothing wrong with it and could always be justified”.

Additionally, the proposed legislation comes from a Citizens’ Initiative which received support from over 830,000 Polish residents, indicating further strong support for a change in law.

Under Polish law, the parliament which formed following the October 2019 election, has a legal duty to consider any Citizens’ Initiative bills which receive over 100,000 signatures within 6 months of its formation – in this case by May 2020.

However, it is unclear how much support the ruling Law and Justice party will give the Bill despite it being submitted by one of their own MPs, Elzbieta Witek.

In 2016, the Law and Justice party initially supported a similar Citizens’ Initiative but then withdrew its support following protests from abortion activists.

Though the bill has strong support from the public, pro-life campaigners are wary that pressure from abortion activist groups pushing back aggressively to keep eugenic disability-selective abortions legal could see the Law and Justice party withdraw their support yet again.

A pro-abortion petition against the bill has signatures from 170 MPs, MEPs and senators from 24 European countries. However, only nine of the signatories are lawmakers from Poland.

President Andrzej Duda has indicated he will sign the Bill into law telling Polish publication Niedziela in a recent interview: “I believe that killing children with disabilities is simply murder. If a project opposing this issue will find itself on my desk, I will certainly sign it.”

Mothers of babies with Down’s syndrome pressured to abort, Australian disability inquiry hears

The mothers of children with Down’s syndrome are revealing the pressure they are put under by medics, often while in an emotional state, to abort their unborn babies with the condition. 

The alarming testimonies were heard by Australia’s Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability as it began a two-week hearing on how individuals with a cognitive disability experience healthcare in the country. 

Toni Mitchell, from Toowoomba, says she’s had to continually justify the life of her son Joshua, who has Down’s syndrome and autism, to healthcare professionals.

Speaking to the Commission, Toni shared how one doctor assumed she would have an abortion when her Joshua was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome following a routine ultrasound scan.

After being told she was having a boy, a senior doctor told Toni it was highly likely her baby would have Down’s syndrome and could miscarry within several weeks.

While Toni was still crying the man said, “Here’s your appointment for a termination”, she said, and he gave her a piece of paper. 

“That was our introduction to it and it set the whole tone for Joshy’s life”, Toni said. 

“In that moment, they completely disallowed his life. They said he wasn’t worth living.”

Toni told the commission that she threw the paper in the bin.

“That was the moment I had to start justifying my son’s right to live and to be treated and I had to start justifying his value to be alive,” she said.

“For the whole rest of my pregnancy… they kept saying, you don’t understand what you’re doing.

“You don’t understand the immensity of bringing a child like this into the world, you don’t understand what a burden this is going to be on you and on society and your family.

“They kept just judging us based on my decision to give him a chance at life.”

Rebecca Kelly, whose son Ryan has Down syndrome, told the Commission that in the model of Australia’s health system “if you can’t cure it … then you eradicate it.”

“If you think that person’s life is a tragedy and that they suffer from this condition then you start to believe that it’s an act of kindness or that it’s a responsible act to do all you can to prevent that birth, and that becomes quite coercive,” she added.

However, likeToni experienced, Rebecca revealed the problems didn’t end with abortion pressure. 

Rebecca stated: “if you have a doctor [who] thinks that possibly your life’s going to be a little bit better if your child doesn’t make it because they’re taking that burden away from you, that has horrible implications for the level of care that you don’t get.”

The Royal Commission was established in April 2019 and will seek to provide an interim report by October 2020, and a final report by April 2022. It is hoped the report will lead to better healthcare for those with disabilities and more support for parents of children with disabilities. 

Last year, it was revealed pregnant mothers in the UK were facing similar pressure to abort children with Down’s syndrome. 

Research by Positive About Down Syndrome (PADS) shows that even after being offered an abortion and informing medical professionals that they wished to keep their baby, 46 percent of mothers were asked again if they wanted to abort.

Figures published just one month later found that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has dropped by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced new non-invasive prenatal tests, adding weight to the study conducted by PADS.