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Opinion, Comment & Reviews
Ante Natal diagnosis
  MORI poll of would-be parents on genetic disease
By Maxine Lattimer,
Pro-Choice Forum
March 29, 1999

30 per cent of adults in Britain say they would consider an abortion if they discovered their unborn baby was affected by a serious inherited disease, according to a recent MORI poll commissioned by Action Research, a medical research charity. The survey was used to launch their Paddington's Suitcase Challenge, a national campaign to raise 1 million for research into children's diseases. The poll also found that one in five adults say they would not even try for children if they knew there was a chance of passing a serious inherited disease to their child. Members of the public were asked to consider what they would do if they knew that through having a child, a serious inherited disease like muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis could be passed on to their baby. 21 per cent said they would not even try for children in these circumstances. 30 per cent said they would still try for children but would be likely to request an abortion if their unborn baby were found to be affected with a serious inherited disease. In all, 52 per cent of the public said they would try for a baby. Only 13 per cent said they were unlikely to have a termination if their baby was affected. 9 per cent said they would try for children but not request a test. MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,978 (male and female) adults aged 16 plus between 5 -9 February 1999. All interviews were face to face and in-home, and were conducted across 164 sampling points throughout Great Britain.

John Grounds, the Action Research communications director said the findings showed widespread ignorance of advances in medicine which make many such conditions treatable or preventable: 'Every year, this agonising choice is faced by thousands of parents who know there is a chance of passing on a disease to their children. Whilst we do not yet have all the answers, we already know that certain complications can be identified and treated at different stages of pregnancy and birth would-be parents should not despair. We are not making a moral judgement or saying anything about the rights or wrongs of abortion. We simply want to say to couples that treatments have been developed and are being developed to help them.'

The results of the survey are unsurprising given that most people do want a normal, healthy baby. It is really should not come as a shock to find that many women would consider an abortion if they discovered their child would be born with a serious inherited disease. Life with a seriously ill child can be extremely difficult. But so is the decision to end a pregnancy that was generally wanted until evidence of fetal abnormality. As Joanie Dimavicius, director of ARC (Ante natal Results and Choices) can confirm, women do not make these choices lightly, and it is not easy for women to predict how they would feel until they face the circumstances of an abnormal pregnancy (see Joanie's paper in the resources section of the Pro-Choice Forum website). The experience of British Pregnancy Advisory service where I work, which provides abortions for fetal abnormality, is that women are highly motivated to find out about the condition that affects their baby. Doctors really have an obligation to provide accurate and balanced information and a sympathetic service whatever choice the woman makes.
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