Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on Down's Syndrome

Scientists from the Institutes of Health, Maryland, have made an apparent breakthrough in experiments on unborn mice with a similar condition to Down's. The scientists injected the unborn mice with proteins and found that the mice brains developed normally. It should be noted that this is not a 'cure' for Down's Syndrome as some reports in the media are suggesting and it will be some years before tests are carried out on humans, but it does raise the strong possibility that effective treatments may one day become available for conditions such as Down's.

One of the objections raised to potential treatments of this kind was that it could be used "just to ensure that somebody conforms to our idea of an ideal standard" but I find it difficult to see why there could be an ethical problem here. We do not talk about corrective surgery for cleft palate or bilateral squint as 'conformity to an ideal standard'. There are thousands of medical and surgical interventions that are used to treat disabling and potentially disabling conditions across the spectrum and all to the good.

Where there may be a problem would be if these drugs turned out to carry a high risk of miscarriage, in which case the risk to the child's life might outweigh the potential benefits. Like the Down's Syndrome Association, I will be watching this story with interest.