The case for screening in early life for 'non-treatable' disorders: ethics, evidence and proportionality. A report from the Health Council of the Netherlands

S. Kalkman, W. Dondorp*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In the Netherlands, the call to add 'non-treatable' disorders to the newborn bloodspot screening programme has found a sympathetic ear with the Government. In 2019, the Health Council of the Netherlands was formally asked for advice on the conditions under which bloodspot screening for such disorders might be offered. Here we present the reasoning and the recommendations of the resulting report, and briefly discuss its reception. The report holds on to the classical view that screening must benefit the child, but argues for a wider account of child benefit than only in terms of substantial health gains. However, screening for 'non-treatable' disorders would still require evidence of a favourable benefits to harm ratio. The report presents a framework for such screening, but concludes that apart perhaps from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), no or only very few 'non-treatable' disorders would at present meet its criteria. Setting up a screening programme that might benefit only a small percentage of families struggling with uncertainty about their child's diagnosis would not seem proportional. Instead, the Government is advised to invest in a better infrastructure for early referral, testing and care. The reaction to the report from proponents of such screening shows that the dividing line in the debate is not about whether screening neonates for 'non-treatable' disorders is acceptable in itself. It is rather whether such screening should be regarded as catering to a parental 'right to know', or as a public health service that should be subject to standards of evidence and proportionality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1155–1158
Number of pages4
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2022



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