Iceland’s Down Syndrome Dilemma and the “Dirty Hands” Theory


The peaceful little nation of Iceland rarely makes any news on the political front, much less anywhere else if not for its natural beauty or lack of army. However lately, it sparked a debate by successfully eradicating the Down syndrome, not through any breakthrough cure for the genetic disorder, but through abortions. This has been possible due to the fact that Iceland allows late term abortion in case of fetal deformity.


First introduced in 2000, although optional but necessarily provided, 4 out of 5 women in Iceland choose to opt for a prenatal screening to find the condition of their fetus. Quasi 100% of these women chose to abort a fetus with the down syndrome and the number of people diagnosed with the syndrome have been reduced to one or two per year. This figure stands at 98% in Denmark, 77% in France and 67% in the United States, but Iceland has yet been the only country to fully eradicate the syndrome in the country. The Icelandic health care system presents the information and allows to mothers to take their own decision and make an informed decision.


For the more conservative countries, this poses several ethical questions. Unlike many other genetic deformities, several individuals with down syndrome live happy, full lives as over the years the life expectancy from around 30 to 60 years. However, the syndrome affects their quality of life, due to various mental and physical dispairements. Hence, this sparks a debate which is much wider than the pro-life/ pro-choice debate and points out the intricacies that lies in this manual process of natural selection among fetuses.


As the new technology give us the power of knowledge in a way we never had before, do we have a choice? Is there an alternative to not know? Where do we draw the line? Or do we? How far can we justify “dirtying our hands” for a greater good, like the preservation of humanity’s continued existence? The answers remain debatable.

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