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Down syndrome terminations rise in Finland

A growing number of women in Finland are terminating pregnancies testing positive for Down syndrome, finds Yle’s health magazine programme Akuutti.

Prenatal testing is voluntary in Finland. Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle
Yle News

Some 70 percent of women in Finland abort Down foetuses, up from 50 percent a decade ago, according to the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which records selective terminations of foetuses with congenital anomalies.

Down syndrome termination rates are growing in Finland but at a slower pace compared to the other Nordics. Akuutti looked into figures on Down syndrome births in Finland following news that Iceland has come close to eradicating Down births (siirryt toiseen palveluun) entirely, prompting discussion on the ethics (siirryt toiseen palveluun) of pregnancy screening.

Down syndrome, a disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21, is the most common chromosomal abnormality (siirryt toiseen palveluun) detected in prenatal screening, according to the THL. About three in a hundred newborn children (siirryt toiseen palveluun) are found to have a structural or chromosomal abnormality, and one in a hundred children is found to have a severe abnormality, according to the institute.

Right to choose

Antti Teittinen, a researcher at the Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, told Yle that between 1996 and 2013, an average 13 Down babies were born per 10,000 births in Finland.

Pediatrician Tommi Salokivi told Yle that today’s relatively accurate prenatal screening gives expectant women the right to know about the health of their foetus. Those receiving a positive test for Down syndrome are also entitled to be informed of medical issues associated with the condition, he explained.

Finland has the lowest abortion rate in the Nordics, according to figures compiled by THL in 2015. Under Finnish law, a termination on the grounds of foetal abnormality is not possible after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Children born with Down today have a life expectancy of 60 years.

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