Harriet Washington, author of the award-winning Medical Apartheid
and most recently Deadly Monopolies
, just published an article in Slate
(and New Scientist
) on new fetal gene tests that can give expecting parents voluminous information about their fetus after only seven weeks. Others have discussed the ethical issues involved with non-invasive prenatal diagnosis; Washington cogently articulates the pressing nature of these developments:
Before using such a test, parents must ask themselves, "What can we do with the information?" If abortion is not an option, perhaps because the fetus is past the maximum gestation period or because of moral beliefs, the information can be useless—or worse than useless, thanks to the needless anxiety. Moreover, the dearth of treatment options for some disorders makes the information medically useless, but potentially risky if insurers use it to hike rates or deny coverage.
If abortion is an option, new problems emerge: Which disorders justify abortion? For some conditions the choice is perhaps clearer. For example, children with the infantile form of Tay-Sachs or Canavan disease go into an immediate, inexorable decline. There is no cure or effective treatment and most children with the disease die in childhood.