Should termination of Down syndrome foetuses be regarded as a fundamental human right? This is an issue which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is currently pondering. In the case of Krūzmane vs. Latvia, the mother of a girl with Down syndrome alleges that she was denied a screening test for the condition when she was pregnant in 2001. She claims that this test is a necessary element of “prenatal care” and that access is guaranteed by the fundamental right to respect for private and family life.
As often happens, the facts of the case are not completely straightforward. Ms Krūzmane, who was 40 at the time, consulted a doctor during her pregnancy. The doctor told her to consult a specialist for a test but failed to follow up on this advice. For this negligence the doctor was fined. However, a subsequent police investigation found that Ms Krūzmane had failed to keep her appointment with the specialist and had failed to inform her doctor that her eldest child also suffered from a congenital genetic disorder. After exhausting her legal options in Latvia, Ms Krūzmane has turned to the European Court of Human Rights.
Critics say that the Court is being asked to decide whether eugenics is a fundamental right. The court’s decision could impose a fundamental right to abortion because of a disability detected through screening on 47 member states.
Advocates for rights for children with Down syndrome have set up a website to protest against this move, Stop Eugenics Now. They argue:
“Recognising as a human right the elimination of children with Down syndrome before their birth amounts to stigmatising a human group selected on the basis of their genome. A favourable ruling would deny purely and simply the humanity of the persons with disabilities and setup in law the mechanism for their elimination.”