Sunday, September 6, 2009

Prenatal testing for Autism is here

Picture from NIH
One of the more popular arguments against searching for a cure for autism is equating the search for a cure with the desire to kill unborn children.

The reasoning goes that since autism is genetic and immutable the only way to "cure" it is to prevent it from happening in the first place. So when anyone talks about a cure what they really are talking about is developing a prenatal test to detect autism so that these children can be aborted.

You know, like happens with Down syndrome. It is estimated that, right or wrong, up to 90 percent of fetuses with Down's are aborted - although I believe this number is starting to fall as the prognosis for these individuals is improving.

This line of reasoning is also used to argue against doing research into the genetics of autism. Because you know, if we can find the genes responsible we can create a test and, well, I think you get the idea.

There is only one problem with this idea - OK, I lie, there are many problems with it - but one in particular that I want to point out.

Prenatal tests already exist for a form of autism called Rett's syndrome.

Rett's syndrome is one of the five conditions that make up what is called the autism spectrum. It is the only one that has a known genetic cause. And, according to the National Institute of Health there is a prenatal test available -
Rett syndrome affects one in every 10,000 to 15,000 live female births. It occurs in all racial and ethnic groups worldwide. Prenatal testing is available for families with an affected daughter who has an identified MECP2 mutation
So here you have the ideal battleground for the Neurodiversity movement - a form of autism that has a proven genetic cause and a prenatal test that can be used to abort the fetus that have this condition. Get ready for the outcry over this because this is going to be big.


Wait, is that the sound of crickets that I hear?

Why hasn't the ND movement picked this up as a talking point? This test has been around for long enough for people to notice so why are there no outraged protests over this form of prenatal testing? These people are their fellow "aspies", why won't they stick up for them? They claim to be dedicated to preventing this from happening, so why don't they try to stop this?

Perhaps this group that claims to speak for all of autism actually doesn't have many with Rett's in their ranks.

Or maybe it is because Rett's is a very serious condition that can have any number of "side" effects such as gastrointestinal disorders, inability to walk, spontaneous brainstem dysfunction, heart problems, seizures, and a shortened life span? Could it be because if you are male and have Rett's you are unlikely to survive for more than a few months?

In all seriousness, this really isn't a joking matter.

Rett's and Down's are serious condition and I don't know for certain what I would do if I were placed in a situation where I had to make a choice to abort a child. I would not give up any of children for the world nor do I think I could choose abortion except under the most extreme circumstances. And at the same time I can understand where people come from when they make that choice.

But, and this is the important part, trying to cure autism is definitely not the same as wanting to abort unborn children.

EDITED : Reposting this because it for some reason when I initially posted it it appeared as of a month ago.

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