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The Palin effect – media begins to take DS seriously

Posted in Ability, Business, Media, Politics, Religion (and the lack of it), Scientific research, Screening, Surveys, Termination by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on September 8, 2008

While I remain concerned about the overall media portrayal of Sarah Palin and her decision to continue with the birth of her son, I have to admit that her profile has prompted some excellent articles about Down’s syndrome.

Here’s an excellent article from ABC News about the new non-invasive screening test from Sequenom. Nothing very unusual about the topic, Sequenom has been getting a lot of press based on its promise to provide earlier, more accurate results.

The interesting thing about the ABC News report is that it digs much deeper into the subject area than most reports would usually do, covering the ethics of testing for Down’s syndrome, abortion rates, details of the test, issues related to current testing procedures, the negative approach of doctors when dealing with mothers expecting a child with DS, medical issues related to Down’s, the opportunities for people with Down’s syndrome, and the negative aspects of early screening.

Would all of those aspects of the story have been given column inches without the Palin angle? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Another interesting article I read recently is this one on Health.com about the influence of religion on the decision to continue with the pregnancy of a child with Down’s syndrome.

It even encouraged me to break my self-imposed ban on religious content, given that it raises some of the same questions I did in imposing that ban.

“I wanted to see if there was scientific data on whether religiously minded people are more likely to continue a Down syndrome pregnancy than others,” writes Andrea Useem.

“The first thing I found was that termination rates for prenatally diagnosed Down syndrome pregnancies are pretty high… But rates of religious affiliation are similarly high… My unscientific conclusion from looking at these numbers? Many people who end pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome probably consider themselves to be religious or say they believe in God,” she continues.

A director of bioethics comments “on a strictly anecdotal basis” that “she believes families who choose to continue with Down syndrome pregnancies are ‘disproportionately’ religious, coming from strong Christian or Jewish backgrounds.”

However, she also indicates, as I believe, that the decision is a matter of humanity, which just happens to manifest itself in the faith of religious believers (and just plain old morality in non-believers):

“I think for many people, [a Down syndrome pregnancy] is a critical test of your own capacities and sense of life’s meaning and values,” Zoloth says. “Many people make those decisions by recourse to their religion, but not all. Many make recourse to other sources of faith, and perhaps their own sense of humanity.”

Anyway once again I doubt that the article would have been covered in quite the same way without Palin’s profile and for that, whatever you think of her politics, I guess we should be grateful.

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3 Responses

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  1. […] commented on Sarah Palin’s nomination as the Republican VP candidate and the subsequent increase in the media’s coverage of Down’s syndrome I decided not to write about the election on […]

  2. […] previously mentioned this article on Health.com which indicated to me that humanity (manifested in faith of religious […]

  3. […] the reporting of her decision to go ahead with the pregnancy of Trig, while also noting the positive impact she had in terms of awareness of Down’s […]


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