March of Dimes: Prenatal Diagnosis in Canada

Here is a very interesting study from a royal commission in Canada. It studied new reproductive technologies and issued a report entitled, “Prenatal Diagnosis in Canada”. This is a comprehensive, data base, national study out of the University of Manitoba about prenatal diagnostic services at medical centers across Canada during the year of 1990. It points to a very sad situation — a problem that obviously, at this point, has sunk its roots deeply into the national cultures of both of our countries.

It reports on 22,000 pregnant women who were referred for prenatal diagnostic services. An interesting comment right off the bat is that the great majority of these were referred because of “advanced maternal age”. That means they were over 34 years of age. I’m not sure how many of you listening who have been or are pregnant, who are age 35 and more, consider yourself to be in a geriatric category, but nevertheless that’s what they figured.

The most common fetal handicap detected through amniocentesis done in the second trimester, or chorionic villus sampling done in the first three months, was Downs Syndrome. There were 100 such women reported. These women were told the diagnosis of the baby they carried. Out of the 100, 88 killed their unborn baby. Another four miscarried. Ultimately only four out of the 100 were born.

There were a number of other genetic abnormalities picked up by these diagnostic techniques, and they fared no better. These included Turner’s Syndrome, Trisomy 18, Trisomy 13, anencephalus, spinabifida.

Here is their conclusion — let me quote: “If prenatal diagnostic programs are to develop in an integrated and cost-effective fashion, it would seem vital that communication be improved between medical geneticists, community health care providers, pregnant women and their partners, and provincial and federal health care agencies.” It continues: “Only if there is a conscious attempt to make improvements will these programs continue to meet the medical, social and emotional needs of Canadian women.”

(Did you pick up that “cost-effective” thing?)

This report is quite similar to another one in the United States. It was a big one – $180 million study partly funded by the National Foundation March of Dimes. It concluded that such “services” were “cost-effective” when compared to the high cost of caring for “blighted” children. A March of Dimes vice president concluded that “expanded genetic services could save the government billions of dollars in custodial care of genetically handicapped children.”

Did you hear that? Did you hear who funded that study? That’s why I haven’t contributed to the March of Dimes for many, many years.

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