Thursday, 2 March 2017

Supreme Court denies nod to woman to terminate her 26-week fetus

Supreme Court denies nod to woman to terminate her 26-week fetus New Delhi, Feb 28 (PTI) The Supreme Court has refused to allow a woman, who is in her 26th week of pregnancy, to abort her foetus on the ground that it suffered from 'down syndrome', saying "we have a life in our hands". The apex court said that as per a report of the medical board constituted to examine the 37-year-old woman, there was no physical risk to the mother in continuation of pregnancy. A bench of Justices S A Bobde and L N Rao observed that though "everybody knows that children with down syndrome are undoubtedly less intelligent, but they are fine people." The bench said as per the report, the foetus is "likely to have mental and physical challenges" but the advice of the doctors does not warrant termination of pregnancy. "With this report, we don't think we are going to allow termination of pregnancy. We have a life in our hands," the bench said. "In these circumstances, as per the present advice, it is not possible to grant permission to terminate the pregnancy," the court said. Down syndrome is a congenital disorder due to a chromosome defect, which causes intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities, which varies from individual to individual. Babies with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21. Down syndrome is also referred to as Trisomy 21 (CDC). Down syndrome earlier was a dreaded diagnosis, because of the ensuing difficulties in raising the child. Institutionalization was but an inevitable outcome for such children. But, advances in health care and technology have led to a greater understanding of the condition along with better care facilities for their rehabilitation. As a result, most children with Down syndrome are able to lead healthy ‘normal’ lives and can be integrated into mainstream of society. Over the years, life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has considerably increased, from 25 in 1983 to 60 today. The US National Association for Down Syndrome has this to say, “Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate impairments but it is important to note that they are more like other children than they are different.” While children with Down syndrome do experience developmental delays, they possess many skills and abilities, which need nurturing. Parents have the most crucial role in this. They can enlist the help of various Support Groups, organizations such as the “Down Syndrome Federation of India” to bring up their child in a supportive and positive manner where they can make valuable contributions to society. There is a list of people with Down syndrome on Wikipedia ( They have been actors, singers, writers, disability rights activists. One of the names in the list is Karen Gaffney, from Oregon, USA a woman in her 40s. She also has a science degree, an honorary doctorate, and is a champion swimmer who has crossed the Channel in a team relay event (The Guardian). Prenatal genetic screening raises several ethical dilemmas as the outcome of the test may well be a decision to opt for termination of pregnancy because couples may be overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a child with genetic disorder such as Down syndrome. Health professionals, who handle such cases, should also be educated about how to counsel such parents-to-be as to how they can prepare themselves to raise their child to be a useful member of society. March 21 is observed as World Down Syndrome Day every year to raise public awareness about the condition. Is termination of pregnancy for genetic reasons the answer? No, a diagnosis of a genetic disorders should not automatically be a reason to opt for abortion, though the decision to terminate a pregnancy may be based on the specifics of an individual case. Section 3 of the MTP Act 1971 elaborates the conditions when termination of pregnancy is permitted. “3. When Pregnancies may be terminated by registered medical practitioners.- (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), a registered medical practitioner shall not be guilty of any offence under that Code or under any other law for the time being in force, if any pregnancy is terminated by him in accordance with the provisions of this Act (2) Subject to the provisions of sub-section (4), a pregnancy may be terminated by a registered medical practitioner,- (a) where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twelve weeks if such medical practitioner is, or (b) where the length of the pregnancy exceeds twelve weeks but does not exceed twenty weeks, if not less than two registered medical practitioners are. Of opinion, formed in good faith, that,- (i) the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury physical or mental health ; or (ii) there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. Explanation 1.-Where any, pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by such pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman. Explanation 2.-Where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children, the anguish caused by such unwanted pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman. (3) In determining whether the continuance of pregnancy would involve such risk of injury to the health as is mentioned in sub-section (2), account may be taken of the pregnant woman's actual or reasonable foreseeable environment. (4) (a) No pregnancy of a woman, who has not attained the age of eighteen years, or, who, having attained the age of eighteen years, is a lunatic, shall be terminated except with the consent in writing of her guardian.” The Government of India has drafted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy TP (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which proposes to raise the limit of permitting MTP up to 24 weeks pregnancy from the current limit of 20 weeks. However, currently, the law does not permit termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks.

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