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Reporting of UK Down’s syndrome stats irritates birth register head

Posted in Media, Screening, Statistics, Surveys by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on November 28, 2008

It wasn’t just me that was perplexed by the media’s reporting of the fact that the number of children born with Down’s syndrome in the UK has increased since screening tests were introduced in 1989.

According to this report in The Independent, the head of the National Down’s Syndrome Cytogenetic Register, which generated the statistics, was also less than pleased.

“Professor Morris, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, in London, admitted she had been “mildly irritated” by the claim that parents were becoming more accepting of Down’s syndrome when it was untrue that more were choosing to keep their babies after discovering the diagnosis. There should have been a 50 per cent rise in Down’s Syndrome births from 1989 to 2006 because of the aging of mothers but the spread of antenatal screening had held the rise at only 4 per cent, she said.

“The proportion of women who had a termination has not changed since 1989 at 92 per cent of those who had an antenatal diagnosis,” she said.”

Professor Joan Morris is the head of the National Down’s Syndrome Cytogenetic Register and The Independent reports that her reading of the figures is that “the number of aborted foetuses with Down’s had remained the same… and the increase in Down’s births was actually due to the increasing age at which women are having babies.”

The report continues:

“”There has been an enormous shift [in the age of mothers],” Professor Morris said. “It really has been dramatic. Down’s is the commonest chromosomal abnormality in babies and the commonest abnormality of any kind in babies born to mothers over 45.”

The proportion of mothers aged over 35 has doubled since 1989 from 6 per cent to 15 per cent in 2006, and the group of those over 40 is rising even faster. But the risk of a Down’s syndrome pregnancy is 16 times greater in a mother over 40 than in one aged 25.”

The NDSCR has an official statement on the statistics here.

The Guardian has also woken up to the fact that the stats didn’t support the story, though sadly chooses to point the finger at others rather than correcting its own reporting of the story.

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