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There’s no such thing as risk free

Posted in Ethics, Scientific research, Screening by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on June 24, 2008

The Times, along with many other media sources, is reporting on a “risk free” test for Down’s syndrome being developed by boffins in Hong Kong. As Michael notes in the comments to the story “not very risk free if you happen to be an unborn baby with down syndrome”.

I’ll leave the discussion on termination for another day, but what struck me about the report is how it makes the assumption that it is fine to test for Down’s in the first place, just because we can. There is no debate about whether it is ethical to test in the first place, just whether the test should be offered to everyone.

It would be interesting to see whether such a debate would occur if doctors were promoting testing for other medical issues such as hearing problems, blindness, autism or Asperger’s.

Also while the test might be “risk free” in terms of physical effects, the emotional impact is overlooked – helping parents deal with the results of these tests is not addressed. We were very lucky to have been offered counselling and have received a lot of attention at the foetal care unit of our local hospital, but I’m sure most parents are not so lucky.

Having to decide whether to continue the pregnancy of our unborn child while not knowing what the effects of Down’s syndrome will be is without doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Unfortunately not as much research goes into the emotional impact of medical testing as does the ability to perform the test in the first place.


3 Responses

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  1. […] reason, as I stated earlier this week, revolves around the lack of support for would-be parents faced with the results […]

  2. […] problem with ante-natal screening When I first started writing this blog I was pretty negative about screening for Down’s syndrome, arguing that not enough thought was put into […]

  3. […] was previously pointed out in relation to research carried out in Hong Kong, associated with the Sequenom test, there is no […]

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