Advantages of expanded universal carrier screening: what is at stake?

Sanne van der Hout*, Kim C. A. Holtkamp, Lidewij Henneman, Guido de Wert, Wybo J. Dondorp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

35 Citations (Web of Science)


Expanded universal carrier screening (EUCS) entails a twofold expansion of long-standing (preconception) carrier screening programmes: it not only allows the simultaneous screening of a large list of diseases ('expanded'), but also refers to a pan-ethnic screening offer ('universal'). Advocates mention three main moral advantages of EUCS as compared with traditional (targeted and/or ancestry-based) forms of carrier screening: EUCS will (1) maximise opportunities for autonomous reproductive choice by informing prospective parents about a much wider array of reproductive risks; (2) provide equity of access to carrier testing services; (3) reduce the risk of stigmatisation. This empirical ethics study aims to widen this account and provide a balanced picture of the potential pros and cons of EUCS. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 health (policy) professionals and representatives of patient organisations about their views on carrier screening including a possible EUCS scenario. Stakeholders acknowledged the potential benefits of EUCS, but also expressed five main moral concerns: (1) Does EUCS respond to an urgent problem or population need? (2) Is it possible to offer couples both understandable and sufficient information about EUCS? (3) How will societal views on 'reproductive responsibility' change as a result of EUCS? (4) Will EUCS lead to a lower level of care for high-risk populations? (5) Will EUCS reinforce disability-based stigmatisation? While having the potential to overcome some moral limits inherent in traditional carrier screening, EUCS comes with moral challenges of its own. More research is needed to (further) anticipate the ethical and practical consequences of EUCS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-21
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017



Cite this