As prenatal testing becomes more widely available, parents face an increasing number of complex choices about their family’s future—choices that will only multiply as genetic testing advances to detect more and more fetal characteristics. For The Atlantic’s December cover story, staff writer Sarah Zhang reports on this rapidly evolving state of prenatal testing, the impact it is already having on the number of children born with special needs and vulnerabilities, and what it suggests about the broader future of genetic testing around the world. Her cover story, “The Last Children of Down Syndrome,” is out now.
Zhang’s reporting begins in Denmark, which in 2004 became one of the first countries in the world to offer prenatal Down syndrome screening to every pregnant woman, regardless of age or risk factors. Since universal screening was introduced, the number of babies born to parents who chose to continue a pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome has ranged from zero to 13 a year. In 2019, the most recent year for which data are available, there were seven. Why so few, and what might those numbers indicate about the future of humanity as genetic testing gets more sophisticated?