Prenatal Screening: Current Practice, New Developments, Ethical Challenges

Bioethics 29 (1):1-8 (2015)
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Abstract

Prenatal screening pathways, as nowadays offered in most Western countries consist of similar tests. First, a risk-assessment test for major aneuploides is offered to pregnant women. In case of an increased risk, invasive diagnostic tests, entailing a miscarriage risk, are offered. For decades, only conventional karyotyping was used for final diagnosis. Moreover, several foetal ultrasound scans are offered to detect major congenital anomalies, but the same scans also provide relevant information for optimal support of the pregnancy and the delivery. Recent developments in prenatal screening include the application of microarrays that allow for identifying a much broader range of abnomalities than karyotyping, and non-invasive prenatal testing that enables reducing the number of invasive tests for aneuploidies considerably. In the future, broad NIPT may become possible and affordable. This article will briefly address the ethical issues raised by these technological developments. First, a safe NIPT may lead to routinisation and as such challenge the central issue of informed consent and the aim of prenatal screening: to offer opportunity for autonomous reproductive choice. Widening the scope of prenatal screening also raises the question to what extent ‘reproductive autonomy’ is meant to expand. Finally, if the same test is used for two different aims, namely detection of foetal anomalies and pregnancy-related problems, non-directive counselling can no longer be taken as a standard. Our broad outline of the ethical issues is meant as an introduction into the more detailed ethical discussions about prenatal screening in the other articles of this special issue

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