Palin’s Amniocentesis Sparks Debate about Procedure
September 3, 2008 - 6:37 PMPre-natal testing, Down syndrome and abortion are being debated anew, inspired by GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who gave birth to a son with the genetic disorder in April.
“I was grateful to have all those months to prepare. I can't imagine the moms that are surprised at the end. I think they have it a lot harder,” Palin told People Magazine about her amniocentesis on Friday.
Palin’s decision to continue her pregnancy has earned praise from conservatives, who say she lives by her pro-life beliefs, and criticism from pro-abortion advocates, who claim her choosing the pre-natal test shows inconsistency in her message.
Sherry Colb, law professor at Cornell Law School, said on a post on the school’s community site, that she didn’t fault Palin for having the test.
“When a woman is pregnant, she is so intimately connected with her baby and yet so ignorant about the baby's progress without a doctor or midwife to give her information,” Colb said. “An amniocentesis provides information in an otherwise frustratingly opaque setting.
“I do, however, fault Sarah Palin for wanting to deprive American women of a choice that she herself had and that she apparently thought about making.”
But Barbara Curtis, an author and mother of 12, including four sons with Down syndrome, is a Palin supporter.
“Here is a woman who knows what she stands for,” Curtis, who lives in Virginia, told CNSNews.com. “She has been tested on a personal gut-wrenching level and did the right thing.”
Technological advances now allow women alternative pre-natal screenings to determine the risks of their child having Down syndrome, including blood tests and ultrasound.
But more reliable results require chromosome diagnostic testing such as amniocentesis, which collects amniotic fluid in the womb by inserting a needle through the woman’s abdominal wall into the uterus.
The procedure increases the normal rate of miscarriage, which is 2 percent to 3 percent, by ½ to 1 percent, according to Dr. Len Leshin, a pediatrician in Texas who has a son with Down syndrome and has written extensively on the subject.
Another diagnostic procedure, Chorionic villus sampling or CVS, takes tissue samples from the young placenta and increases the risk of miscarriage slightly more than amniocentesis, Leshin reports.
In January 2007, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came up with new recommendations for Down syndrome screening, departing from the long-held position of only screening “high risk” women 35 or older to recommending that all pregnant women should be screened, regardless of age.
The new recommendations were endorsed by the March of Dimes.
Nancy Green, then the medical director for the March of Dimes, told The New York Times that the new guidelines fit the good model for public health because it’s “doing the most good for the biggest number, the good in this case being the information people need to make decisions.”
Because there is no cure for Down syndrome, in utero or after birth, the only choices are to continue the pregnancy or have an abortion – a decision Barbara Curtis said reflects the repugnant idea of ending the life of a child because he is not perfect by society’s standards.
“The basic thesis is this is a person who is lesser, so therefore we don’t want to bring him into the world,” Curtis told CNSNews.com.
Curtis, who gave birth to her Down syndrome son, Jonny, 16 years ago and with her husband adopted three more boys with the genetic disorder – Jesse, 13, Daniel, 12, and Justin, 8 – said she did not have a screening done even though she was 44 when she was pregnant with her son.
“I told the doctor (the test) wouldn’t matter, because we’d choose to have the baby anyway,” said Curtis, who gave birth to a healthy daughter when she was 45.
Curtis said she considers the birth of her son Jonny a blessing.
“It was like I’d entered another dimension and had a greater understanding of what life is really all about,” Curtis said.
And while she acknowledged the challenges of raising a special needs child, she said the special nature of children with Down syndrome also makes it especially rewarding.
“He has a joy, a love for life and enthusiasm,” Curtis said. “Jonny brings out the best in everyone around him.”