Why Down syndrome in Iceland has almost disappeared ?

“CBSN: On Assignment” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and on our streaming network, CBSN. Explore more on this topic in our “Behind the Lens” report.

 

With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.

Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.

While the tests are optional, the government states that all expectant mothers must be informed about availability of screening tests, which reveal the likelihood of a child being born with Down syndrome. Around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik.

“CBSN: On Assignment” headed to Iceland with CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano to investigate what’s factoring into the high termination rates.

Using an ultrasound, blood test and the mother’s age, the test, called the Combination Test, determines whether the fetus will have a chromosome abnormality,  the most common of which results in Down syndrome. Children born with this genetic disorder have distinctive facial issues and a range of developmental issues. Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.

Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates. According to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it’s 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015). The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity — and Down syndrome is included in this category.

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