The now routine use of integrated prenatal screening – the diagnostic testing of children in utero – has had disastrous, even fatal consequences. Doctors are able to identify more than 500 genetic diseases and illness; unfortunately, many of these ailments are not treatable.

Many jurisdictions in Europe, the United States and Canada are reporting either a slight decline in abortion numbers or that they are holding the line. This is good news after years of ever increasing numbers of abortions. What is particularly troubling, however, is the widespread increase of late-term abortion. Abortions are increasingly committed after diagnostic tests are able to determine genetic flaws and anomalies in the unborn child. This indicates the move away from abortion as a form of birth control to something much more sinister: a project of eugenics.

The fact is, many parents are killing their children when confronted with the knowledge that they face increased chances of disability or premature death. They then choose an extremely premature death as their child’s fate.

A generation ago, the medical profession put great pressure on couples who had a history of certain disease or for women who delayed having children until their late 30s to undergo various tests to check for genetic anomalies. Now, however, such testing is routine: amniocentesis, sonograms (ultrasound) and blood screening such as the alpha-feto-protein test.

With these technologies available, doctors say they can determine if there is anything “wrong” with the child, but in most cases (for instance, for children with Down Syndrome, spina bifida) there is no treatment or cure. Faced with the possibility – and it must be stressed that it is a possibility because the tests only show approximate increased odds of genetic anomalies – of a sick child for which little can be done other than to provide unconditional love, parents have their children eliminated by abortion.

But abortion is not treatment, so we wonder if the goal of the medical profession is not the elimination of people with certain diseases and conditions, a twisted exercise in the “quality control” of human beings. Malcolm Muggeridge commented on this trend more than two decades ago when he said we are entering an age when abortion will be used to eliminate the less than “perfect blooms” – people who are not beautiful, intelligent, skilled.

A further tragedy of this trend is that as fewer people suffer from a particular disease, the impetus to find a cure will be lessened. Genetic research has done wonders to help us understand what causes disease and disability but had done less to discover treatments. For instance, Dr. Anthony Lejeune, the French pro-life physician and researcher, discovered the genetic roots of Down Syndrome almost 50 years ago; we still have no cure today.

There are also the dangers that the actual tests themselves, particularly amniocentesis and chorionic villus biopsy, present to the child itself, including death through miscarriage. For amniocentesis, the test causes a miscarriage about once in every 200 procedures.

Prenatal books such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting say that parents should not avoid such diagnostic testing just because they oppose abortion since there are benefits in being prepared for a child that will either die shortly after birth or face a lifetime of disability or illness. That may be true, but there is also incredible pressure on parents to abort their sick children by a medical establishment frustrated by its inability to treat the child. The technology provides an almost irresistible momentum toward the ghastly practise of eugenic abortion, the result of thousands of choices made “individually” by couples who find the burden of such children too much.

More importantly, as Gilbert Meilaender, a professor of theological ethics at Valparaiso University in Indiana, has noted, we fail the most important Christian virtue, that of love, when we substitute love of those with genetic defects with the faux medical treatment of abortion. Josef Pieper, Meilaender notes, said love is one way of saying to another “It’s good that you exist; it’s good that your are in this world.” Prenatal screening, as it is routinely practiced today, is in direct conflict with the virtue of love.