The blog of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Ethics of prenatal genetic tests

What could be an explosive ethical issue in genetic testing in the years ahead?

One possibility: prenatal genetic testing.

Hank Greely, the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, told the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues today that just 1 to 2 percent of pregnancies now involve prenatal genetic testing.

He said that could explode to more than 50 percent in coming years because of an emerging DNA test for genetic abnormalities taken only from a mother’s blood after the fifth week of pregnancy. Now, doctors use a needle to extract amniotic fluid found in the sac surrounding the developing fetus to test for abnormalities.

“There is a lot of fetal DNA to be had in the blood stream of the pregnant women,” Greely told the Commission, which is considering whether to launch a study on ethical issues surrounding genetic testing. “At the fifth week, 5 to 10 percent of a woman’s DNA is from the fetus, so we can do clinical testing of the fetus with that DNA from the mother’s blood.”

He said with such a non-invasive procedure of taking 10 millimeters of blood from a mother’s arm, “I would predict testing to go from 2 to 50 percent to maybe over 70 or 80 percent. We then would have big ethical issues around abortion, eugenics, and disability rights. There will be hard questions about what (testing) one should allow, such as whether it’s for serious diseases or non-serious diseases.”

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1 Comment to Ethics of prenatal genetic tests

  1. April 13, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Thank u for posting.

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