CBS news recently released a story about prenatal screening in Iceland (population 330,000 people) and the effect that this has had on the number of Down syndrome births in that country. In the land of ice and fire (or am I getting confused with something else…?) the Combination Test is offered to all expectant mothers. This test includes an ultrasound, a blood test and the mother’s age and determines whether the child in the womb will be born with a chromosome abnormality, the most common of which results in Down syndrome. About 80 to 85 per cent of Icelandic mothers choose to undergo this optional test, and, since the Test was introduced about 15 years ago, nearly 100 per cent of those mothers who receive a positive test had an abortion. This is despite the fact that the test is only 85 per cent accurate. The comparable figures in other countries of babies killed who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are 67 per cent in the USA, 77 per cent in France and 98 per cent in Denmark.

The upshot is that there are only two or three babies born in Iceland each year (the number in the USA is about 6,000). As one Icelandic mother of a Down syndrome child was quoted by CBS as saying: “I will hope that she [her Down syndrome daughter] will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That’s my dream…What kind of society do you want to live in?” According to Genetisict Kari Stefansson, the society that Icelanders want to live in is one that does not include Down syndrome children. He said that:

“My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society – that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is fairly complicated decision.”

A mealy-mouthed (but at the same time touchy-feely) spin on the killing of Down syndrome babies was placed on Iceland’s practice by a hospital counsellor, Helga Sol Olafsdottir. She said that she gives a prayer card to mothers who have chosen to abort their children after a Combination Test with the date and tiny footprints of a fetus that was terminated (as the kids say nowadays “wtf!?”) She told CBS’ correspondent that:

“We don’t look at abortion as murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. [That “thing” is alive, and is not any old “thing”. Alive – ask a doctor, they’ll tell you.] We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication … preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder – that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”

As the kids say nowadays: OMG. And ROTFLMAO. That is the stupidest thing I’ve heard all week. But whatever helps you sleep at night. Of course it is very black and white for the child (she even calls the victim a “child”). In fact it is so black and white that it is the difference between life and death. And for Iceland’s Down syndrome sufferers, the outcome is overwhelmingly more black than white. More death than life. Furthermore, according to this logic, every child should be terminated since we all suffer. That is part, as much as our modern society may wish it were otherwise, of the human condition. We can look at every baby on the ultrasound scan and predict with 100% certainty that that baby will suffer in their life. So according to Oladsdottir’s logic, we should abort every child to prevent their suffering. And no parent wants to see their child suffer, so aborting those children will prevent their family suffering too. Human suffering is solved. Easy.

What is about Down syndrome that means that we think that they are better off dead? Why do we think that killing them with kindness is the better solution? As the years roll on, Down syndrome is probably going to become rarer, not just in Iceland, but throughout the world. Not because we have found a cure, but because we have, as a society, found it easier for everyone if we kill them in the womb. And what will that say about our society? Nothing good.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...