Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dutch Debate Ultrasound Use as Late Abortions Skyrocket

Monday February 15, 2010

Dutch Debate Ultrasound Use as Late Abortions Skyrocket

By Kathleen Gilbert

AMSTERDAM, February 15, 2010 ( - Because late abortions have doubled since the government began offering ultrasound screenings to pregnant women at 20 weeks, some Dutch lawmakers are hoping to change the standard use of the tool, according to the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

Gynecologist Hajo Wildschut told the paper that many women decide to abort their child after the 20-week ultrasound because it is at that stage that defects such as Down syndrome and spina bifida can be observed. That leaves women four weeks to decide whether to have the child killed before the legal cutoff for abortion at 24 weeks.

The Dutch government introduced the 20-week ultrasound for all pregnant women in 2007. Since then, the number of abortions between weeks 20 and 24 have doubled, according to data published by the Netherlands Health Care Inspectorate Thursday.

"Most of these children are wanted," said Wildschut. "But then the pregnancy takes such a tragic turn. The parents are struggling terribly with the questions: can we raise a child who has spina bifida or Down syndrome? Can we live with the decision of ending this pregnancy?"

Some lawmakers are pushing to delay the ultrasound: members of parliament with the pro-life Christian party, ChristenUnie, want to postpone the official ultrasound to the 24th week.

"The life of a person with disabilities is a valuable life," ChristenUnie MP Esmé Wiegman said last Tuesday. "We should be able to count on a careful approach when the life of an unborn child with a disability is involved."

If her proposal to move the ultrasound fails to get support, Wiegman said she would work to cap legal abortion at 18 weeks.

Experts have also concluded that the ultrasound was one reason there were no reports of euthanizing newborn babies in 2008, as children who would have been euthanized for severe birth defects instead were killed in the womb. The euthanasia of newborn infants is permitted in the Netherlands under certain conditions set forth in the so-called Groningen Protocol.

Some have also complained that the ultrasound was leading parents to kill children with minor defects, such as cleft lip, that could be corrected with a just few surgeries.

"We explain the child can be helped by undergoing three or four operations. And we will supervise the child for years, watch it grow up. We will never tell the mother: ‘this life is not worth it,'" said Marjan Nijhuis-Kloen, a nurse and cleft lip expert at a hospital in Nijmegen.

See related coverage:

Researcher to Dutch Government: Allow Euthanasia for Newborns Based on Foreseeable Suffering

Former Dutch Health Minister Admits Error of Legalizing Euthanasia

Dutch Euthanasia Numbers Rise

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