New Prenatal Blood Test to Determine Genetic Disorders Could Mean Healthier Kids, Rise in Abortions

Filed under: In The News, Pregnancy Health

Identifying genetic disorders, sex or even eye color could be possible soon with a simple blood test. Credit: Getty

A new blood test for pregnant women that could detect genetic disorders in an unborn child without risking a miscarriage is raising both hopes and fears among experts who say it could lead to healthier babies -- and more abortions.

The Los Angeles Times reports the experimental procedure promises to transform prenatal testing by identifying conditions such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis from traces of DNA in the mother's bloodstream, according to a study published last week in the British Medical Journal.

Experts say these tests will become inexpensive and easily accessible soon, and that when that happens there will be myriad social and ethical ramifications from this new technology called non-invasive prenatal genetic diagnosis, or NIPD for short, the Times says.

That will give many expectant parents a whole new set of choices concerning their unborn babies.

Not only will they be able to learn whether their children have a chromosomal abnormality such as Down syndrome or a single-gene disease like cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs, they can also find out their sex and eye color, Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, tells the medical publication Nature. He says the tests are likely to become commercially available within the next five years, the Times reports.

If they are as popular as other non-invasive prenatal screening tests (think blood tests to identify neural tube defects), Greely estimates the number of fetal genetic tests annually in the United States will jump from the current 100,000 to about 3 million, according to the newspaper.

Greely says he is concerned because the new test will almost certainly lead to more abortions. In China and India, for instance, greater access to inexpensive ultrasound testing has produced a "dramatic skewing of live-birth sex ratios," Greely writes in Nature.

Prenatal paternity testing could also result in more pregnancy terminations, he adds.

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