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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Genetic Screening Gets Serious

Today's NY Times has a piece by Amy Harmon about prenatal genetic screening and the social revolution that many see around the corner.  The article seems to have been spurred on by a report (abstract) in the Nov. 10 New England Journal of Medicine on first- and second-trimester screening for Down's Syndrome.  Here are some of the observations from the article:

  • The new prenatal test provides earlier, more reliable results for all women than the current test, which is routinely offered to only older women who are at higher risk. But for people with Down syndrome and the cluster of other conditions subject to prenatal screening, the new test comes with a certain chill. Because such tests often lead to abortions, people with conditions from mental disability to cystic fibrosis may find their numbers dwindling. As a result, some fear, their lives may become harder just as they are winning the fight for greater inclusion.
  • Some bioethicists envision a dystopia where parents who choose to forgo genetic testing are shunned, or their children are denied insurance. Parents and people with disabilities fear they may simply be more lonely. And less money may be devoted to cures and education.
  • The co-director of the disabilities studies program at Pennsylvania State University, Michael Bérubé, whose 14-year-old son has Down syndrome, worries that if fewer children are born with the condition, hard-won advances like including them in mainstream schools may lose support. "The more people who think the condition is grounds for termination of a pregnancy, the more likely it will be that you'll wind up with a society that doesn't welcome those people once they're here," he said. "It turns into a vicious cycle."

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