A Capabilities Approach to Prenatal Screening for Fetal Abnormalities

Greg Stapleton*, Wybo Dondorp, Peter Schröder-Bäck, Guido de Wert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


International guidelines recommend that prenatal screening for fetal abnormalities should only be offered within a non-directive framework aimed at enabling women in making meaningful reproductive choices. Whilst this position is widely endorsed, developments in cell-free fetal DNA based Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing are now raising questions about its continued suitability for guiding screening policy and practice. This issue is most apparent within debates on the scope of the screening offer. Implied by the aim of enabling meaningful reproductive choices is the idea that screening services should support women in accessing prenatal tests that best enable them to realize the types of reproductive choice that they find important. However, beyond whatever options meet the quality standards required for facilitating an informed decision, the remaining criteria of facilitating autonomous choice is strictly non-directive. As a result, policy makers receive little indication prior to consultation with each individual woman, about what conditions should be prioritized during the offer of screening. In this paper we try to address this issue by using the capabilities approach to further specify the non-directive aim of enabling meaningful reproductive choice. The resulting framework is then used to assess the relative importance of offering prenatal screening where concerning different types of genetic condition. We conclude that greater priority may be ascribed to offering prenatal screening for conditions that more significantly diminish a woman's central capabilities. It follows that serious congenital and earlier-onset conditions are more likely to fulfill these criteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-321
Number of pages13
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Abortion
  • Capabilities approach
  • Ethics
  • Justice
  • Prenatal screening
  • Reproductive autonomy


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