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Sunday, September 5, 2021

Controversy Over a DNA Study

In The Politics of Autism, I explain:
When a pregnancy is under way, doctors can detect certain kinds of disorders, but neither amniocentesis nor any other prenatal test can currently tell us whether a fetus will become autistic. Suppose that such a test did exist. “The best case use of a prenatal test at the moment would be if you could say to a parent, your child has got an 80 percent likelihood of autism and so once the baby's born, we would like to keep a close eye on that child in case they need extra support like speech therapy or social skills training or some sort of behavioral approach,” says leading autism scientist Simon Baron-Cohen. But would the “best case use” be the most common? When amniocentesis indicates Down Syndrome, most mothers choose abortion. A study of autism parents in Taiwan found that just over half would abort if a prenatal test indicated that their next child would be autistic. We cannot be sure what the figures would be if such tests were available in the United States, but it seems likely that a large share of autism pregnancies would end in abortion.

Liam O'Dell at The Independent:
Autistic advocates have expressed concerns over a University of Cambridge study, over fears that the research into “genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the wellbeing of autistic individuals and their families” amounts to “eugenics”.

Branded “the largest study of autism in the UK”, Spectrum 10K – which also involves researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) – looks to collect questionnaire responses and DNA samples from 10,000 autistic people.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre and project leader, said there is an “urgent need” to “better understand” the needs of autistic people.


However, while the team behind Spectrum 10K repeatedly insist that they are “not searching for a cure” for the condition and that they are “ethically opposed to any form of eugenics”, concerns have been raised over the security of genetic information and the views of those involved.

Speaking in April 2019, Baron-Cohen told Spectrum News that “there’s no way we can ever say that a future political leader or a scientist won’t use the research for eugenics”.

The "eugenics" fear is that if DNA testing shows that a couple with a high probability of having an autistic child, they will decide not to have children at all.  And more specifically, there is concern that it could lead to selective abortion