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Y2K Bug Blamed For Miscalculated Down Syndrome Risk 273

Posted by timothy
from the when-numbers-lie dept.
Albanach writes: "The BBC are reporting in this story that the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, England is blaming the Millennium Bug for getting wrong 150 tests for Down Syndrome with four mothers going on to give birth to affected children." The article actually idicates that four women were pregnant with Down Syndrome babies, and that two of them brought the pregnancies to term.
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Y2K Bug Blamed For Miscalculated Down Syndrome Risk

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  • hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by teknopurge (199509) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:11PM (#2293942) Homepage
    so because the age of the mother was calculated incorrectly, it fucked up the results? i find it hard to belive the doctors wouldn't notice a mistake such as that....

    -teknopurge
    • Re:hmmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by steveo777 (183629)
      So this Y2K bug led this program to believe these mothers had a negative age? Or at least that's what I can draw from it... You'd think it's programmers would have a line of code to make sure that didn't happen. I guess it must not pay to be thurough anymore...

      • This isn't a Y2K-specific bug but just bad data-management in software. Data entry can screw up in many places, a similar bad effect may have happened if someone had misentered a birth-year of '71 as '17 (giving a mother's age in the 80s).

        The key is to develop software that flags "silly" values, positive or negative. And even then you're going to miss some, so some calculation steps should be displayed in the output.

        Just clumsy programming, not Y2K. Move along. (I guess we're desperate for some Y2K bugs, tho.)

    • by aradiaseven (167118) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:23PM (#2294047) Homepage
      The test they're referring to is only a screen to see whether you're low-risk for Down's or high-risk, based on the factors mentioned (mother's age, weight, etc.). From these factors they come up with a number that reflects your general level of risk. So just from that it wouldn't be obvious to the doctors that the moms' ages (and therefore risk levels) were being miscalculated.

      The screening test does not tell you whether or not the fetus actually has Downs -- for that, you need further tests, such as amniocentesis. It's this chance for further testing that was missed.

    • i find it hard to belive the doctors wouldn't notice a mistake such as that....

      Oh, that's easy enough. If the results were simply presented as "Yes/No" there's no way to tell. The source for the patient's age could have been correct but the age used in the determination was, obviously, wrong. What the programmer should have done is display the patient age as used in the calculation. It is still possible that the programmer attempted to do so yet ... made an error. No way to tell without more information.

      Though I'm not a doctor and I haven't played one on TV, I do program OB/GYN databases and have done Y2K updates on them. I always tried to make sure that a screwy result would stare the user in the face.

      --

      • I've only once ever worked on a medically important program, one which calculated the mixtures required for TPN (feeding someone through a drip). The output printed out all the inputs, and each formula used, with the values on both sides, so that the person running the program could check the calculations. One important factor is that the pharmacist is the responsible one. They cannot delegate the responsibilty to the program, and therefore they had to have the ability to check the program was performing correctly.
  • by The Slashdolt (518657) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:15PM (#2293971) Homepage
    but should this be "y2k bug saves two lives"? It seems that (according to the article) the two mothers would have aborted their babies had they known they were going to have downs syndrom. I do consider myself pro-choice, but I don't think that aborting a baby just because it has downs syndrome is the right thing to do. I know many people with downs syndrome, including some family members, and there is no reason they can't live a happy life with parents that love them.
    • by steveo777 (183629)
      Murder in the name of conveniance anyone?
    • I agree. I believe parents who don't want children or can't take care of them should be entitiled to choose. However I have a step cousin with down syndrome and a sister who is blind and autistic. I am appalled that people are aborting children because of downs syndrome.
    • Sure, ignorance is bliss. Now, I'm sure you'll consent to your lobotomy, right? After all, some patients go on to very happy lives, even if they're a bit simple...

      I'm sure that non-retarded people live much more fulfilling lives, so while someone with a mental problem may be happy, they'd have been more independant, and likely much happier, if they were healthy.

      For instance, my relationship with my fiance is the best thing that's happened to me, I wouldn't be independant enough to support myself, let alone able to find a lover and have a meaningful relationship.

      Not to mention, don't the parents ever want the kid to move out? Wouldn't the kid be unhappy when his parents die and he has to move to a home? And wouldn't he, to the degree he'd be able, feel upset about being such a burden?

      I've made MY decision. I've asked family to withdraw life-support if I'm ever badly brain-damaged. The most painful thing for me would be to go through life, remembering everything I could have been. Can you imagine knowing you had once been able to program, but now not been able to comprehend a mouse, or read even simple books?

      No way! Better off dead!
      • But what about people who were considered to be "slow" or even "retarded" who went on to become incredible geniuses. People like Einstein. Could you imagine if Einsteins parents would have found out that young Albert was gonna be slow, so you might as well abort him. We all would have lost something. People who are considered slow or retarded can go on to do GREAT things. Look at Stephen Hawking! Don't underestimate the power of the human spirt!
        • um, Stephen Hawkings position has nothing to do with this really. He was completely normal, and didn't even know anything was wrong until he was a grad student at college. Besides which his phisical condition has never had anything to do with his mind; using him in that scenarios is apples to oranges.
        • Einstein did NOT have Downs syndrome. He would NOT have been aborted under these circumstances. And I don't recall ever hearing of any accusations that he was retarded.

          Do you even know what it means to be retarded? Or has the term's over-use to mean "stupid" completely blinded you to what REAL retards are like?
      • I've made MY decision. I've asked family to withdraw life-support if I'm ever badly brain-damaged. The most painful thing for me would be to go through life, remembering everything I could have been. Can you imagine knowing you had once been able to program, but now not been able to comprehend a mouse, or read even simple books?

        If you were unable to comprehend a mouse, would you be able to know you had once been able to program?
        • Well, alzheimers can do this. A friend's grandfather suffered from this for years before he died. He knew everything he used to be able to do, he used to remember the details, and before his death he barely remembered the outline. For instance, he knew he'd been in the army, but not the details of his service.

          He had met his wife while in the army, and later that whole period of his life was gone.

          He knew just enough to know how much he'd lost.
      • Those two cases aren't even in the same ball park.

        Is the statement that you wouldn't want to live if you sustained a brain injury a justification for killing a child before they have the opportunity to make that choice?

        A woman who suffers from tuberculosis is pregnant. Her husband has syphilis. There are three children in the family. One is blind, another deaf, and the other suffers from tuberculosis. Yet another child died in infancy. Under the circumstances, what would you recommend? An abortion?
        Congratulations, you?ve just killed Beethoven.

        Euthanasia is one issue; infanticide is something else entirely.

        • And with the same advice, you'd have aborted hundreds of mentally or physically retarded babies.

          This gets even better now, because we're much closer to being able to tell if the baby has a problem, instead of just playing the odds.

          If geniuses were always retarded in other ways, aborting a retarded baby would risk our only supply of geniuses, but there are plenty of geniuses who don't have any great physical or mental flaws.

          I stand by my position of aborting babies that tests show will be retarded.
          • some would argue that the very thing that makes these people geniuses is a great mental flaw.

            all the exceptionally smart people i know (i humbly include myself in this group, for anecdote's sake) suffer from a slight to not-so-slight case of manic depression. this is considered abnormal psychology, sometimes resultant from physiology. so would you abort this group? keep in mind that manic depression is a highly negative trait, not always treatable with medication...

            or how about homosexuality? it doesn't contribute to the greater good, and it could have physiological cause. does this mean we should terminate all potentially gay children?

            eugenics is a bitch to live with.

            personally, i live with some severe lows, i keep an eye on what sharp objects i have easy access to at times, and live without medication. why? because the medication will "fix" the problem in my brain, which i feel is what makes me "smart." do i think i'm better for it? definitely!

            please don't prejudge people; let them become people and decide for themselves whether their lives are worth living or not.
        • Congratulations, you?ve just killed Beethoven.

          Baloney.

          If we don't know about Beethoven, it's impossible to kill him.
          I don't buy that argument, and I don't buy the counter-argument either, ie. that we can post-predict to abort Stalin.

          Personally, I think that the choice to have an abortion is up to the patient, not some bystanders on the street waving placards. You may disagree with that opinion, but there's no way in hell anyone will ever convince me to change it.
    • This test was done before pregnancy to see what there risk was so the mother could make a decsion as to whether or not get pregnant.

      presumable the 2 that did abort found out through other tests later in the pregnancy.
    • They would not have necessarily aborted the fetus. They would have had a better opportunity to prepare for the different set of challenges that having a child with Down's Syndrome would present.
    • I get moderated down to -1, and this guy posts at +3? What the fuck is that? Go ahead and moderate this one down too, karma isn't the end of the world, but I'd hate to have to read at -1 just to read my own posts, especially when I shared the exact same opinion as this guy.
  • by Stackster (454159)
    Well, what do you know. A bug that actually saved lives.
  • I guess they had to blame SOMETHING, and since Y2K got no respect, they nailed that.

    The implications are interesting, though. Wait until the anti-abortion crowd gets ahold of that.

    "Sorry. We screwed up on the test. You should have aborted that one. Maybe next time."
  • "The article actually idicates that four women were pregnant with Down Syndrome babies, and that two of them brought the pregnancies to term."

    Does this mean two of them were aborted? How many mothers had false positives on Down Syndrome diagnoses? I guess the Y2K bug was a real threat after all and had tragic consequences.

    • I believe it said that 150 mothers were correctly diagnosed, while the four weren't (I'm not sure about the 150, if they aborted or not). Out of the four only two came to term, the others were thrown away like so much unwanted garbage. It really does make me feel sick.
  • by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:18PM (#2294003) Homepage Journal
    ...that it's a good idea to use these tests as the basis for termination. Oh, great.


    "Whoops! Sorry, Mrs. Flittersnoop, we just discovered that your twins would have been OK, after all. It was all because of that Millenium Bug that we neglected to fix. Now, isn't that silly!"


    Next week....


    "Sorry to bother you, Mrs Flittersnoop, I know you're still upset over the loss of your babies. We've just received back the re-checked test results for your husband, and we're glad to say he didn't have terminal cancer, as our computers had indicated. Unfortunately, the mail didn't get sorted in time, and we've already given him euthanasia. Now, now. Don't cry! There are bound to be bugs in any computer system. Now, Mrs. Flittersnoop, be very careful with that uzi. We don't want any more accidents, now... Mrs. Flittersnoop.... Will you please stop looking at me that way.... This really isn't helping.... The EULA clearly states that we're not responsible for computer errors.... If you don't put that safety catch back on, right now, I'll have to make a written complaint...."

    • Um, buy a clue here (Score:3, Informative)

      by GenericJoe (16255)
      The test that was faulty was *not* used as the basis for termination. It was used as a basis to determine the necessity of *another* test, amniocentesis, which is risky for both the mother and the fetus. (This information is clearly outlined in the article)

      In other words, getting this test wrong put 150 women at greater risk for a test later in their pregnancy. Obviously the test was eventually done, that's how the four women who had fetuses with down syndrome were informed of it.

      Another reason to get this test right is so that the amnicentesis can be done much earlier in the pregnancy, preferrably during the first trimester when an abortion is a viable option.

      Whether you agree with abortion or not, it is the mother's choice, and I can respect the desire to limit suffering in the world, especially for your children.

      GenericJoe
      • by srn_test (27835)
        I know of two people who were advised to terminate pregnancies here (Westmead Private Hospital, Sydney, Australia) on the basis of nucal translucency results alone.

        Neither did so; the children were fine in both cases.

        In both cases the test was flawed because the fetus was unusually large and thus the doctors involved got the conception date wrong.

        In both cases the doctors ignored the mother's protests that the conception date was off by a couple of weeks...

        Stephen
    • Read the article:

      The computer error during screening at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital meant the women were originally told they were in the low-risk group.


      Thus, women who were at risk were told they were not at risk. The effect was that some women either didn't get the real Down's Syndrome test or didn't get it soon enough (it's not clear) and two babies were born with Down's Syndrome.

      The error did not cause any pregnancies to be terminated; it may or may not have prevented terminations.

  • I thought that it was common knowledge that the older you are the higher risk you are to having a child with Downs. Most of the effected patients were over 35 which is when this becomes a real risk. Aside from that, how accurate is this testing (when it is calculated correctly)? I don't know about you, but even if the test said I was okay, I would still expect that risk.
  • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:20PM (#2294028) Journal
    It's about how such an important piece of code passed dec. 31 1999 without beeing tested against Y2k, specially when everybody involved with the code knew it uses dates to give the result.

    I wonder how many lines of code are still there, untested, waiting for someone to run them and screw things up big time...
    • It's about how such an important piece of code passed dec. 31 1999 without beeing tested against Y2k

      Absolutely. I'm glad to see this getting attention here. It is often the case that the need for quality in software takes a back seat to concerns for meeting deadlines and keeping expenses down. But here we see that with computers being used for so many important purposes, small bugs can have a profound effect on people's lives. This is something all of us in IT need to keep in mind.

      I think this story is going to find its way in to my boss's inbox (anonymously). It's something to think about when you feel the need to pressure coders to get the job done now, rather than get the job done right.

  • What's next? (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by rkischuk (463111)
    The Code Red virus saves a rainforest when idiots opening attachments trigger the massive forwarding of an environmentalist email petition?
  • Testing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AX.25 (310140)
    I would like to question the reason such testing is necessary in the first place. If a woman wants to become a mother doesn't the fact that she would consider termination of her pregency because her baby is "less than perfect" create some doubt about her ability to parent? We became parents because we loved children, not because we wanted perfect children.

    My wife is a midwife (and previously worked with down's syndrome adults) and we are against most prenatal testing and find it offensive that a person who chooses to be a mother could reconsider because a doctor told her that her baby was damaged.

    And no, we are not right to lifer's. We are liberal, UU's and pro-choice.
    • If you're really pro-choice, you should recognize that it means that people are allowed to make choices that you don't agree with. As far as for having "damaged" babies, some people aren't capable -- financially, time-wise, emotionally -- of handling all the additional work that comes with a "damaged" baby. Are you going to force that upon them?
      • My point is why are they having babies in the first place. If they don't have the time for the added responsibility of a Down's baby then they out to rethink having a baby in the first place and adopt.

        So I guess what I really mean by pro-choice is that the choice shouldn't be made after the fact in normal situations and the choice is to have a baby or not. Termination doesn't enter the picture. I think a lot of people miss this when they talk about this issue.
      • So, I'm not really Pro-Choice if I disagree with someone elses decision to fly a passenger jet into a populated building?

        Some people call me thick-headed.

    • I would like to question the reason such testing is necessary in the first place.

      Japanese culture of a century ago would have selected for small feet in their girls. This may have had interesting developmental consequences, given that the genes for characteristic features are very often multi-purpose and spread around the DNA. Hitler would have murdered Einstein in utero or sooner, given the chance. There are a lot of consequences to un-natural selection of which we are not yet aware. Even if we are fully aware of the consequences, can people be relied upon to base their kill/keep decisions on rational grounds?

      And no, we are not right to lifer's. We are liberal, UU's and pro-choice.

      I'm also pro-choice. IMHO, the child concerned should be consulted and given a choice before anything drastic is done to or with him/her. Can you pick any physiological marker during a child's in utero development at which the child stops being ``a blob'' and starts being ``human?''
  • I do not know why they relied on the computer in the first place. If they knew the age of the subjects beforehand, they would have performed an amniocentesis in order to examine the chromosomes themselves. This is usually done on patients age 35 and over, who are at higher risk for Down's Syndrome.

    More information on the complete screening process is a ds-health [ds-health.com].
  • by tcc (140386)
    In a perfect world with mature people, we'd take the blame for the damage we cause and apologize for it. Even if it's a mistake, an honnest mistake is far easier to swallow than covering up and taking no responsibility or throwing the ball left and right. Taking the customer/client for a total retard, that is not only hard because of the mistake itself, but the added insult to the intelligence of the victim is really not needed especially in these cases.

    If you're a doctor, you're supposed to be intelligent, if you fear something might be screwed up (Y2k was such an issue that you *CAN'T* claim you never heard of it), you take actions (paperwork instead of computer database for a short while, or even better, continue using the computer database while keeping a backup on paper and see if there's anything wrong comparing). I'm sorry but there's simply no excuses for this, oh you won't admit your mistake because you're scared you'll get sued? Well not only you'll get sued anyways, but you'll have a lot of media reporting your mistake AND your actions making you look not only incompetent (which you feared in the first place and tried to avoid), but also like an irresponsible immature child that will blame anyone but himself.

    That said, I blame and will sue the heck out of the tooth fairy for not pulling out my teeth that got me a painful root canal treatment!
  • by John Murdoch (102085) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:34PM (#2294128) Homepage Journal

    This is just...sad.

    I'm at a client's this afternoon for a meeting. When I'm done I'll go home to my wife and three daughters. Daughter #3 has Down syndrome.

    There is no such thing as impartial journalism--the words a writer uses color the facts (and opinions) that he or she presents. In an article about a simple date validation problem the writer--and the hospital--manage to convey the idea that this simple computer bug is a catastrophe. After all--two children were born with Down syndrome.

    Some readers might miss a point that isn't adequately made in the article: the computer program did not tell the mother whether or not the baby had Down syndrome--all it did was some simple calculation based on age (that's about the only significant factor) and project a statistical risk for Downs. A woman in the high-risk group would be informed that she might wish to have amniocentesis performed--there is no indication (or reason to believe) that the two mothers would have agreed to have the test, or if they had the test they would choose to dispose of their babies.

    I submit that there's no moral catastrophe. But this article is an obvious symptom of a serious moral disease: use technology to select characteristics we like in children, and to dispose of children we don't want. Great heavens! A child who might have an extra chromosome, or a child who might have a predisposition to red hair. Egad--a child who might not have a Y chromosome (that would be a girl, if you slept through biology). Nope--terminate her, we'll try again.

    The moral issue here isn't the software bug. (The bug, IMHO, is not that big a deal--any Ob/Gyn knows the risk factors. The program strikes me as a boondoggle.) The moral issue is the tone of the article--the obvious belief of the writer that families have been injured by having their children.

    • Wrong book; try Brave New World [huxley.net] by Aldous Huxley.
    • The moral issue is the tone of the article--the obvious belief of the writer that families have been injured by having their children.

      Agreed! The problem I have is that people don't see that these "less than perfect" children can have a wonderful life and a life that positively affects those around them. These children are no less valuable. Let us not make "quality of life" judgements, rather let us value life.

    • by nanojath (265940) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:56PM (#2294300) Homepage Journal
      I'm mystified as to where you are finding the message in this article that suggests in any way that the author's issue is with terminating pregnancies. The article explicitly states that the issue is the mothers not getting the best information for her range of options - termination not even being mentioned - of as you note, choosing to have amniocentesis at the safest time. There is a clear benefit to knowing in advance if your child is going to have a serious medical concern of any time - it allows proper prenatal care and both practical and emotional preparation. The point, as the article states, is that they should have known they were high risk but were misinformed they were low risk.
      • There is a clear benefit to knowing in advance if your child is going to have a serious medical concern of any time - it allows proper prenatal care and both practical and emotional preparation.

        I wish that were true. I don't mean to flame you--before Annie was born I had that innocent view of the medical world as well. I daresay you have never been offered amniocentesis, or had a child born with a serious disability.

        Let's start with some simple biology. Down syndrome happens at conception. My little girl doesn't have a birth defect--she has a genetic defect. Amniocentesis, as far as I know, doesn't tell you of any condition that can be helped with prenatal care. Unless you define abortion as prenatal care. The purpose of amniocentesis is to identify genetic defects.

        We've been called by the county several times to counsel parents who have had amniocentesis and heard the words "Down syndrome." The doctor's advice is always abort, abort, abort. The doctor is in full-blown damage control: the parents hear the worst possible case--how the child will have a damaged heart, damaged lungs, will require open-heart surgery within weeks, will live less than 5 years. They hear about mental retardation and the likelihood of spinal injury and the meager prospects for a "meaningful life." The "emotional preparation" they get from the doctor is a combination snow job and horror story.

        What the doctor doesn't tell you is the million and one things that make Downs kids unique. That they have "loose ligaments" that make them the stretchiest and snuggliest kids in the world. (Daughter #3 crosses her legs Indian-style in front of her pillow, then bends forward onto her pillow and falls asleep--if you don't have Downs, you'll permanently injure yourself. This is how they take naps.) That there is something mysterious--something mystical--about Downs kids and animals. We have off-the-racetrack Thoroughbreds, and they're tough for experienced horse people to handle--but they'll stand for Annie, and docilely stand while she holds them on leads.

        Is every obstetrician in America needlessly, hopelessly, cruel? No--but every obstetrician in America is in, by far, the most expensive medical specialty due to the crushing liability premiums they pay. If there is any possibility of any kind of problem they have a built-in incentive to encourage--to the point of a really hard-sell--abortion. That's why they push amniocentesis--and if you refuse amniocentesis, they will haul out legal forms and insist that both you and your husband sign waivers of any right to sue.

        The reason I think the article conveys the view that children are now disposable commodities is that the author never even suggests that having a child with Down syndrome might not be a bad thing. Instead the fact that two kids with Downs were born is written as a failure, as a breakdown of the government system, and as a reason to call for a new "reference" program against which all other such programs will be compared.

        I'm--obviously, right?--close to the subject. So perhaps I'm quick to hear the echoes of Peter Singer's "end the suffering" (by which he means, "off the imperfect") palaver. Down syndrome represents tragedy and suffering: suffering is bad; thus, end Down syndrome. (Singer says this with more or less those words.)

        I'm not going to say that Down syndrome is completely without suffering. In fact, Daughter #3 is still up (it's 11:12 pm) telling knock-knock jokes, way past her bed time. So there's going to be a little suffering on her bottom if she's not in bed in about thirty seconds....

    • Would you and you're wife had child #3 if you knew she would have down syndrom before you got pregnant?

      As a parent I know how hard it can be to be impartial to that question when you see your beautifull child every day.

      this is a serious question, and I am really curious.
      • Would you and you're wife had child #3 if you knew she would have down syndrom before you got pregnant?

        Er--ah, um. Actually, it was my wife who got pregnant. (Although she kept saying, "you did this to me!" all through labor....)

        All jesting aside, I can't answer the question in the abstract. The question I can answer is "if you knew Daughter #3 would have Down syndrome, would you have aborted her?" The answer is a simple "no." When the doctor offered amniocentesis my wife refused. When the doctor more or less insisted, she refused. When the doctor suggested that she should return with me for "counseling" she asked if he thought she was incompetent--all amniocentesis does is give you the bad news. Since abortion was simply out of the question, she refused.

        That said, Down syndrome is not, by any means, the worst possible disability. There are other trisomies (where there are three chromosomes in a "pair"); there is Tay-Sachs; there are other genetic defects; there is cerebral palsy. Handicapped kids frequently start in "early intervention" programs within weeks of birth--of the kids in Annie's first class fewer than half are alive nine years later. We know mothers and fathers with preschoolers that can't lift their heads off the floor--we know parents of "kids" who are in their twenties and still wearing diapers. None of them would "dispose" of their kids--none of them would give them away.

        The closest I can come to answering your question is to tell you about my brother and sister-in-law. She comes from a family with a genetic condition that prevents the body from absorbing iodine--boys usually get it, girls usually carry it. If they have the disease they develop terrible rickets (bowing of the legs) and have to have a series of orthopedic operations through their growing years. When Dave and Suzanne married they had to face the question: do they have children or not? They have two daughters--and their second daughter (in a very rare circumstance) has the disease. Every summer they fly to St. Louis (he's in the Air Force, so every summer they're flying from somewhere new) for observation and study of her condition, and usually surgery to insert pins into her legs.

        I think they made the right choice.

    • The moral issue is the tone of the article--the obvious belief of the writer that families have been injured by having their children.

      I agree with your sentiment. However, I do not interpret the tone of the article in the same way that you are. When the article states that the hospital is sorry for what happened, I don't agree with your interpretation as "We're sorry you had to have a baby with Down's Syndrome." If that were the case, it would indeed be a depressing article.

      My interpretation: (reread the article so you can see where I get this). Regardless of a woman's stance regarding abortion in these situations, it is always going to be traumatizing to discover that your child may have Down's Syndrome. The point of the article, and the reason the hospital extends its apologies is that many women were told that there was no risk. Later, the verdict was changed. They were told that there is a significant chance of their baby having Down's. This gives them much less time to prepare mentally for whatever alternative they might choose. Worse yet, it is now so late in the pregnancy that the absolute test for the syndrome puts both mother and baby at risk!

      These women deserved the apology they got, with no moral reproof towards the hospital or journalist.

    • Gifts from God (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CaptainCarrot (84625) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @05:57PM (#2294870)
      A couple of years ago, the son of one of my co-workers passed away at age 14 from respiratory problems. It was a complication of the Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy from which he suffered.

      Although I had never met the boy, I went to the memorial service to support my friend. It was a very informal event. His family, friends, teachers and therapists were all present. One by one they took the podium to say a few words about how Michael had enriched their lives with his joy, enthusiasm, and love. Not a single person in the room -- and certainly not his parents -- regretted having known him, or begrudged him their efforts on his behalf. As far as these genuinely good people were concerned, the rewards for having done so far outweighed what it cost them, and Michael's presence in their lives was a gift from God. It was extraordinarily moving.

      Having made the choice myself, together with my wife, to maintain life support for a very prematurely born infant when we were given the choice to terminate it, knowing full well that he would likely be severly disabled, I cannot regard the decision to abort a potentially disabled child as anything but evil. They really are gifts from God. Raising them makes you a better person. Throwing them away as if they were nothing more than organic trash is sick. The fact that society seems to assume that anyone would want to do so is a sign of a very sick society.

      In other matters, I suspect the reliance on a computer program to diagnose risk factors is a consequence of the UK's wonderful national heath system. Yes, a living, breathing OB/GYN certainly would have known the risk factors for Down Syndrome and other diseases without the aid of a computer. But I suspect that MDs are dispensed with for routine pregnancy counselling and diagnoses in order to save money, being replaced with relatively untrained personnel running expert system. Disturbing as the implications of this story are, it's a good example of why this is a rather bad idea.

      • Although I had never met the boy, I went to the memorial service to support my friend. It was a very informal event. His family, friends, teachers and therapists were all present. One by one they took the podium to say a few words about how Michael had enriched their lives with his joy, enthusiasm, and love. Not a single person in the room -- and certainly not his parents -- regretted having known him, or begrudged him their efforts on his behalf.

        Yes, because you always badmouth the dead on their funeral day...
        Honestly I think it's cruel to bring a child to the work with a debilitating dieseas that will kill him (if from the complications if nothing else) before his 20th birthday, especially if he will spend most of his youth half dead and in pain.
        Somehow to me it seems less cruel to give your child a fighting chance at leading a full and happy life. To be able to play with the neighborhood kids in the backyard and to go to the regular school instead of the "special" school where half of the kids are truely retarded.
        This also applies to crack babies of poor single urban drug addicted mothers, but in all cases I think it's the mother's decision and not mine.

        But that's just my opinion, and I'm donning my asbestos underwear before hitting the submit button.

        In other matters, I suspect the reliance on a computer program to diagnose risk factors is a consequence of the UK's wonderful national heath system. Yes, a living, breathing OB/GYN certainly would have known the risk factors for Down Syndrome and other diseases without the aid of a computer.

        That's a huge assumption there. Human doctors are certainly not infallable, in fact I'd like to see the statistics on the number of misdiagnosed cases with a human OBGYN vs a Computer program. What's more, a computer program is more likely to notice very obscure diesease risk factors for dieseases that the human doctor hasn't seen since his medical school days. Personally I'd like to see a combination where a doctor checks what the program thinks, then gives his patient a once over to be sure it's sane before handing them the diagnosis.
  • The article specifically mentions that these errors occurred as a result of whatever computer or program miscalculating the date when the year turned over to 2001, not 2000.
  • Sanity Checks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _flan (156875) on Thursday September 13, 2001 @03:36PM (#2294147)

    This is a good example of how software is not tested. According to the article the problem was due to the mother's age not being correctly calculated. My question is, were there any sanity checks on the mother's age in the first place? Probably not.

    It seems logical that for a critical application you would try to have as much sanity-checking code as possible. It should be plainly obvious that no one should have a negative age or be giving birth if they are over 100 years old. And sanity checking code is easy.

    The common excuse, though, is the ol' "garbage in, garbage out". Which is fine -- but what if you don't know you have garbage? The software -- if it can -- should at least give a warning.

    This gets down to one of the basic questions for software testing: What inputs can you rely on?

    Software engineers know by now (at least mostly) that all user input has to be checked and validated. But what about system data, especially something as basic as the date?

    The only way to protect against unexpected bad data is to do sanity checking at all steps in the process. If you know even a little bit about the domain, you can usually set reasonable bounds.

    Software isn't really engineered unless it makes these kinds of checks.

  • OK, now I realise that I'm setting myself up to be flamed here, I ask those people to grow up. I'm also hoping for some reasoned responses, which I eagerly await.

    What, exactly, is wrong with aborting based on Downs syndrome as opposed to ordinary abortion? (I'm not talking about whether abortion as a whole is right, perhaps another thread should discuss that). A genetic test can be taken and decided upon long before the legal threshold, so what is the difference? If you are allowed to choose not to have a baby, aren't you allowed to choose not to have one based on the results of whether they have a very disabilitating genetic disease?
    • If you are allowed to choose not to have a baby, aren't you allowed to choose not to have one based on the results of whether they have a very disabilitating genetic disease?

      Okay. I only want a baby boy with blond hair and light blue eyes. Can i get a DNA test, and kill off the baby if it doesnt seem probable that he will fit my parameters? What about if I want a track star and my baby looks like it might have a cleft foot?

      When does it end? At what point is it okay, and what point is it sick?

      I'd like to know, thanks.
    • What, exactly, is wrong with aborting based on Downs syndrome as opposed to ordinary abortion?

      "Eugenics", when applied to human beings, is rightly considered a dirty word by most civilized people I would hope. The Nazis showed us how slippery the slope is.

      (I'm not talking about whether abortion as a whole is right, perhaps another thread should discuss that).

      I enjoy a good righteous flamefest as much as the next guy, but be aware that's exactly what your asking for here.

  • It's a test to determine the risk of Downs Syndrome. This test is done to see if the risk of doing amniocentesis(which can kill the fetus) is warranted. Just to dispel the rumor, people are interested in knowing that a baby is going to have downs syndrome for lots of reasons, not just to abort the fetus. Knowing ahead of time gives parents an opportunity to make plans(for instance, daycare may not seem as good an option).

  • This brings up the question of who would be responsible. If the corporation that wrote the software is to blame, does that mean that the corporation can be arrested for manslaughter of the unborn?

    If that happens, a lot more software is going to be tested if it is going into a potentially life threatening situation.

    Also, if they used a library for their date functions, does that make the library author responsible too?

    Travis
  • This test is given to women who want to know there risks BEFORE getting pregnant.

    The womens decsion as to whether they should get pregnant was , partially, based on these tests.
    This mens that the women where actually thinking about the ramifications of being pregnent, and kudos to them.
  • It's a poorly coded application that is reponsible for this bad results. Maybe it's not their fault, perhaps no one told them about the Y2K bug....
  • Would have done found the problem earlier. If they would have only done some of the calculations by hand every few test this would have been found alot earlier. I also blame the doctors they should be able to look at the results and sense something was wrong. I hope everything turns out ok for these women.
  • I have had a lot of dealings with challenged people (the mentally and physical handicapped) and have never once had one of them do any thing mean or unkind to me, as a matter of fact they were all very carrying and kind. (You may wonder why I deal with so many challenged people and it is because I was inspired by my younger brother who is challenged to become a Special Olympics volunteer and just recently became a certified Special Olympics track coach) So this begs the question why whish death unto challenged people if they didn't do any thing to you? It is clearly not out of empathy for them because they are usually very happy with their lives regardless of how simple they may seem to us. I would hazard a guess that it is because they are different. Disliking some one for no other reason then they are different if I am not mistaken is prejudice. I consider prejudice an extreme from of ignorance perhaps that just me. However if you will concede me the point that prejudice is a form of ignorance then I believe the world just got a wake up call to get more educated on Tuesday. It has been demonstrated through out history the prejudice is a very scary thing that ALWAYS leads to violence. Please instill in yourself the desire to become more educated about others beliefs you resulting lack of prejudice may just serve as an example to others.
  • Not looking to either karma whore or be redundant, but since I've never seen a story so widely misunderstood here even by people who seem to be reading it, I'd like to lay it out as I understand it.

    If I've gotten something wrong, please correct me.

    The bug affected an initial screening process that used blood test results and the mother's age and weight to determine the risk of Down's Syndrome. It sounds to me (I'm unclear on this) like the error was caught and 150 women who had been told that they were in the low-risk group were actually high-risk. Four of them turn out (this is where I start to get confused -how?) to have had Down's Syndrome babies. Two of them (I guess) still had amniocentesis and aborted the babies and the other two had their babies.

    OK, I'm realizing I'm confused about this too. Anyone have a clearer understanding?
  • Well, get the shotgun, time for some abortions, right?

    The bias in this mere report is disgusting. One can hear the shock and horror in timothy's voice: "and that two of them brought the pregnancies to term."

    OH NO!

    Look, I've known many retarded people in my life, including a family member and his friends. Most of them were sweet, kind, and gentle people who weren't half as dumb as people make them out to be. I think the world isn't harmed when a sweet, kind, and gentle person is born, since /. already proves we have plenty of arrogant intelligent snots more interested in mouthing off than doing anything to help out. So when I see articles mourning their birth, I get a bit upset. Yes, it's sad they weren't born UNAFFLICTED. It is sad this cannot be reversed in the womb to prevent them from being crippled. It is NOT sad that they were BORN.

    -Kasreyn

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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