Can routine screening for Downs Syndrome be ethically justified?

Professor Rebecca Bennett

portrait of cute baby boy with downs syndrome on the bed in home bedroom
This is a past event
Date and time
6 April 2023
6.30 pm
£10.00 (non-members)


Do screening programmes for pregnant individuals prevent or cause harm?

We often assume that increasing the number of screening programmes in pregnancy is a good thing.  These programmes are frequently justified as a way of empowering women (and others who are pregnant) with information about the foetus they are carrying, enabling more informed choices about their pregnancy.

In this talk, Professor Rebecca Bennett will argue that the routine nature of these screening programmes means that they put pressure on individuals. Not only to accept screening but also to consider termination of pregnancy.

If we are committed to respecting the autonomy of individuals, then this gives us good reasons to support any sufficiently autonomous choice to choose termination.  However, Rebecca will argue that the pressure involved in routine screening programmes undermines rather than empowers autonomous choice.

Further, if screening programmes are justified as an attempt to prevent harm, then a strong argument can be made that they are counterproductive. Not only in terms of harm to pregnant individuals but also in terms of reinforcing negative attitudes around conditions such as Downs Syndrome.

professor rebecca bennett

Professor Rebecca Bennett

Professor Rebecca Bennett has worked at the University of Manchester since 1993. She has published widely on diverse issues in bioethics. Her areas of interest include (but are not limited to): the ethics of screening for Down’s syndrome; the ethics of blood spot screening in newborns (including the possible introduction of Whole Genome Sequencing); and the ethical treatment of transgender children and adolescents.

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