Friday, August 04, 2006

Dangers of Prenatal Testing

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk has written another excellent article

"Each year, more and more prenatal technologies become available to pregnant women that allow them to test whether their children will be affected by certain diseases. Approximately 450 conditions can currently be diagnosed in utero by testing fetal cells, often through chorionic villus sampling (early in the pregnancy) or through amniocentesis (later in the pregnancy). Based on some pending technologies, this number may soon skyrocket to nearly 6000 diseases. Such powerful medical tools raise some serious concerns: are prenatal testing results rapidly becoming the equivalent of death sentences for children in the womb? Prenatal testing does have its valid uses and applications, but the temptation to misuse it is a serious one, so the decision to carry out such testing must be made very carefully, and within in a limited set of circumstances.Kaiser Permanente, a large managed health care organization, offered a disturbing statistic regarding prenatal testing in a 2004 New York Times article. When their members in northern California tested their unborn children for cystic fibrosis, some of them tested positive. Of those parents who received a positive test result, a full 95 percent terminated their pregnancies. When couples learn they have a child affected by Down's Syndrome, the figure is comparable."

"When medical professionals advocate prenatal testing, the profession subtly communicates a message that there may be certain lives that are not worth living. This quiet 'conspiracy of eugenics' is beginning to reach to all levels of society, affecting even Catholics and others of a strongly pro-life persuasion. As Dr. John Larsen of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at George Washington University Medical Center put it in the same Times article: 'People will come into my office in tears and say they've been against abortion their whole lives, but they'll make an exception for themselves [when their baby is affected].'"

"Prenatal testing is permissible, indeed desirable, when done with the intention of providing early medical intervention to the child. For example, the life-threatening disease known as Krabbe's leukodystrophy can be successfully treated by a bone marrow transplant shortly after birth. If a diagnosis of the disease is made by prenatal testing, the family can initiate the search for a matched bone marrow sample even before the child is born. That way, valuable time can be saved, and the early intervention improves the likelihood of a good outcome. Certain other diseases like spina bifida can be treated by doing microsurgery on the baby while still inside the womb. Prenatal testing which aims to provide diagnostic information to assist in the treatment of an in utero patient represents a morally praiseworthy use of this powerful technology."

When I refused many of the "routine" prenatal tests, my doctors acted as though I was crazy. I was infuriated when during an ultrasound a minor marker for Down Syndrome was found and I was told that I now had a decision to make. What decision did I have? In the end, the "marker" wasn't a sign of anything. I felt that I was being pushed to make a decision that I wasn't going to make.

Read the complete article here.

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