A new prenatal test for Down’s syndrome has been given the green light in Switzerland amid controversy over whether this will lead to more abortions.
Testing will be available there from mid-August following a decision by the National Agency for Therapeutic Products, according to a Swiss newspaper.
The test involves screening pregnant women’s blood samples for the presence of foetal Down’s syndrome, which is also known as trisomy 21.
The German-firm LifeCodexx described the procedure, marketed as PrenaTest, as a ‘risk-free alternative to common invasive examination methods such as amniocentesis’.
It claims that the test can detect 95 per cent of cases if it is performed in the first trimester.
The company said demand is high in Switzerland from doctors and expectant mothers. The test will also be marketed in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, according to the German-based firm’s website.
The Swiss national health insurer Santesuisse and the Swiss gynaecological society are happy for the cost of the test to be reimbursed as part of standard medical cover if it proves successful, according to the Neue Zuercher Zeitung am Sonntag.
However, the international federation of Down’s syndrome organisations has objected to such testing at the European Court of Human Rights.
The federation, grouping 30 associations in 16 countries, said in June that the Strasbourg court should ‘recognise the human condition and protect the right to life of people with Down’s syndrome and those handicapped’.
Down’s syndrome is caused by having an extra copy of chromosome 21.
It is a life-long condition that affects a baby’s normal physical development and causes moderate to severe learning difficulties.
Women are allowed to have abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy if their baby has Down’s.
It is assumed that the risk of having a baby with Down’s increases as a woman gets older.
Invasive procedures currently used for prenatal diagnosis – in the 16th week of pregnancy – pose a one per cent risk of miscarriage.
Since 2003 all pregnant women in the UK have been offered screening for Down’s syndrome. However, only those who are judged to be ‘high risk’ can then opt to have a diagnostic test, so not all cases are picked up.
From 2007 to 2008, 1,843 cases of Down’s syndrome were diagnosed during pregnancy, and 743 babies were born with the condition.
There is currently no screening programme during pregnancy for other conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis or Patau’s syndrome.