Non-invasive prenatal testing: ethical issues explored

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Abstract

This paper explores the ethical implications of introducing non-invasive prenatal diagnostic tests (NIPD tests) in prenatal screening for foetal abnormalities. NIPD tests are easy and safe and can be performed early in pregnancy. Precisely because of these features, it is feared that informed consent may become more difficult, that both testing and selective abortion will become 'normalized', and that there will be a trend towards accepting testing for minor abnormalities and non-medical traits as well. In our view, however, the real moral challenge of NIPD testing consists in the possibility of linking up a technique with these features (easy, safe and early) with new genomic technologies that allow prenatal diagnostic testing for a much broader range of abnormalities than is the case in current procedures. An increase in uptake and more selective abortions need not in itself be taken to signal a thoughtless acceptance of these procedures. However, combining this with considerably enlarging the scope of NIPD testing will indeed make informed consent more difficult and challenge the notion of prenatal screening as serving reproductive autonomy. If broad NIPD testing includes later-onset diseases, the 'right not to know' of the future child will become a new issue in the debate about prenatal screening. With regard to the controversial issue of selective abortion, it may make a morally relevant difference that after NIPD testing, abortion can be done early. A lower moral status may be attributed to the foetus at that moment, given the dominant opinion that the moral status of the foetus progressively increases with its development. European Journal of Human Genetics (2010) 18, 272-277; doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.203; published online 2 December 2009
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-277
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Volume18
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010

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