"We have a life in our hands", the Supreme Court said on Tuesday as it quashed a petition by a woman who wanted to abort her pregnancy of 26 weeks as the foetus suffered from 'down syndrome'.
The apex court said it understood the "anxiety" of the 37-year-old woman who had sought its nod to abort the foetus on the ground that it suffered from 'down syndrome', but as per the report of the medical board it cannot allow her to terminate the pregnancy.
Down syndrome is a congenital disorder which causes intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities. Referring to the report of the seven-member medical board, the court said as per its advise, "there is no physical risk to the mother of continuation or termination of pregnancy" and "if the baby is born with Trisomy 21 (down syndrome), it is likely to have mental and physical challenges".
"In any case, it is not possible to discern the danger to the life of petitioner no.1 (woman) in case she is not allowed to terminate her pregnancy. In the facts and circumstances of the case, it is not possible for us to grant permission to petitioner no.1 to terminate the life of the foetus," a bench of Justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao said.
The apex court said the report "clearly does not and possibly cannot observe that this particular foetus will have severe mental and physical challenges. It states that the baby is likely to have mental and physical challenges".
The bench noted that in the medical report, "there is no observation made by the medical board that every baby with down syndrome has low intelligence, but it was observed that 'intelligence among people with down syndrome is variable and a large proportion may have an intelligence quotient of less than 50 (severe mental retardation)".
The order came on the plea filed by the woman who had approached the apex court seeking a direction to allow her to undergo medical termination of her pregnancy.
The law prohibits termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks even if there is a fatal risk to the mother and the foetus. "We are constrained to pass this order being conscious of the fact that any permission at this stage would be irreversible," the bench said.
"It is not in dispute that the foetus of petitioner no.1 has been diagnosed with Trisomy 21, more commonly known as down syndrome, a condition that causes severe physical and mental retardation to the foetus," it said. The apex court said that in such cases, two important considerations -- danger to the life of the mother and danger to the life of the foetus -- are involved.