Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Ending the pregnancy for the baby's sake

Making the decision to end a much-wanted pregnancy caused most parents a great deal of heartache. Here we focus on what people said about the baby's diagnosis and how that affected their decisions. Other contributory factors such as family well-being and parental health are considered in 'Deciding to end the pregnancy for personal and family reasons'.

Many people explained that they felt overwhelmed by conflicting emotions of hope and despair when reaching their decision. Many felt acute sadness for the baby who they felt was part of them and their lives.

Many parents felt very strongly that they wanted to protect the baby from physical pain and suffering. Some wanted to avoid putting the baby through the distress of struggling to breathe at birth, others were concerned about the baby suffering in his/her first few months of life, particularly if they had been told that s/he would need corrective surgery and have to spend long periods of time in hospital. 

One way parents tried to work out what was best for the baby was by thinking about his/her 'quality of life', though people had different ideas about what this meant. Some people thought that quality of life hinged on whether someone knew who they were and what was happening to them; others described 'quality of life' as being able to live at home with the family, or being able to play with siblings. Several parents believed that ending the pregnancy had been 'the kindest thing' for the baby.

When parents had been told that the baby would probably die during or soon after birth, or that the condition was so serious that it was 'incompatible with life', they felt as though they had little choice about ending the pregnancy.  

When parents found out that the baby had one of the better-known anomalies such as Down's syndrome or spina bifida, many explained that they knew what to expect and could imagine the baby's future. Parents thought that children with these anomalies would be more vulnerable as they grew up and also may suffer emotionally as adults. 

When parents were unsure exactly how badly affected the baby would be by his/her problems, and when doctors were unable to predict the precise outcome, they felt they were working in the dark. Parents described how they faced 'Hobson's choice' and that whichever route they took would lead to unhappiness. Parents realised that no one but they could make the decision, but one woman said that her husband had asked doctors to help them make a decision they could live with. 

A few parents who were carriers of a recessive gene (see 'Resources') explained how they had found out and how it affected  their attitudes towards subsequent pregnancies (see 'Deciding whether to have another baby'). Several women had undergone two or more terminations because of genetic and other abnormalities. 

Many people speculated about what they would have done had the baby been given a different diagnosis. People's views varied - some said that they knew they couldn't cope with a condition like Down's syndrome which would mean their baby had learning difficulties. Others said that had the child been diagnosed with Down's as opposed to a life-threatening condition such as Edwards', they would not have terminated the pregnancy.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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