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Premaitha - The Guardian reports that the NHS will offer free NIPT tests from 2018: what about morality?

By Tom Winnifrith | Sunday 30 October 2016

Disclosure: Financial Investigative Media Limited, which is not owned by Tom Winnifrith but by a trust for his dependants, owns shares in companies mentioned in this article. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from ShareProphets). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

The Guardian has reported that as of 2018 the NHS will offer free non invasive tests for Downs to all at risk women. This is great news for AIM listed Premaitha (NIPT) which is a leading provider of such tests. For it there is a clear financial gain but there is an ethical element here which as a shareholder but also a recent father causes me some issues.

If a pregnant woman is over 38 she is at higher risk of having a baby with Downs Syndrome. My Mrs who gave birth six weeks ago is well over 38 and following a rough and ready non invasive scan were were told that we were low risk for Downs, about 150-1.

At that point you are offered a choice. There is an invasive test which has a 1% chance of killing your baby and is pretty accurate or a non invasive test (NIPT) which is almost 100% accurate and has zero risk of killing the foetus. The invasive test is free, NIPT costs £180 right now.

The Mrs and I were not going to risk the 1% chance of killing our son. But we also talked about it and both coming from Christian families came to another conclusion. we may be in varying degrees lapsed but for us it would be immoral to terminate a life even if our child was suffering from Downs. So we opted for no test.

There are however many folks who would go for NIPT and would also terminate a baby with Downs. My ex wife has a niece with Downs and she is an amazing girl and a wonderful addition to this planet. But I can see that her life is complicated and causes awful difficulties and choices for her loving parents. I can understand why some folks opt not to bring into this world a kid with Downs. It is their choice it would not be mine.

There is a hard line position that all life is sacred and those holding that view would ban all invasive tests ( 1% of which kill) and would mean all babies with Downs' would be born as there would be no tests. Those holding this view would ban all abortions even where the pregnancy is caused by rape or abuse. It is an extreme position and one that as a libertarian who believes that what we do with our own bodies is our call not that of the State, I struggle with.

In allowing all women at risk to have NIPT we will save lives as it is a safer procedure than invasive tests. But I know full well that it will cost lives in that some of those who right now decline to have invasive tests because of the risks, will have NIPT and when they know the results abort. On balance a more widespread usage of NIPT will cost lives. There are some who will argue that the lives saved are of healthy babies, the ones lost will be of those with Downs' but that argument asks you to believe that one sort of life is worth more than another and that is just not how I feel about the world.

And so I admit that I feel terribly uncomfortable about this whole issue. I have a moral position which happens to be the same as that of my wife and we made a conscious decision to act in one way. For me my libertarianism over-rides that morality in that I have to believe that a pregnant mother has the ultimate decision on whether to abort. It is her body and at 16 week or 18 weeks life is just not viable in an independent sense.

And thus if NIPT allows women to control their own bodies more fully and in a safer manner I have to support it. And that means that I am, on balance, comfortable owning shares in Premaitha.

But I completely understand and respect the views of those who disagree and I do have a great degree of sympathy for their position.

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