Women

Should the Government Limit What Women Can Learn from Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing?

Bioethicists in Britain say yes. But there are no such limits in the U.S. yet.

|

FetusTestingSkypixelDreamstime
Skypixel/Dreamstime

As they develop, fetuses shed their DNA into the bloodstreams of pregnant women. Several companies now offer a blood test that can provide genetic information about a fetus nine weeks into a pregnancy, when it is the size of a grape. The process is called non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) because—unlike earlier tests, such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis—cells are not taken directly from the placenta or the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus.

NIPT is used to identify genetic abnormalities, such as those involved with Downs Syndrome and Klinefelter Syndrome. The test can also identify the sex of a fetus. Researchers are now working on ways to sequence entire fetal genomes, so in the future NIPT will be able to identify genetic variations, such as those that confer a greater risk for cancers and neurological diseases.

Whenever a new fetal test technology comes along, bioethicists always feel compelled to call for restrictions on women's access to information about their fetuses. Take the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which in March issued a report called Non-invasive prenatal testing: ethical issues.

To its credit, the report states that women should be able to access testing for "significant" medical conditions or impairments in the fetus. But it also concludes that NIPT "should not be used to reveal information about a fetus relating to less significant medical conditions or impairments, adult onset conditions, carrier status, sex or other non-medical traits, and [that] whole genome or exome sequencing normally should not be offered. Any restrictions on access to information about the fetus would also need to apply to whole genome or exome sequencing, otherwise these restrictions could be by-passed."

Consequently, the council urged the British government to put a moratorium on whole genome NIPT. It also recommended that the government prohibit NIPT providers from telling women the sex of their fetuses. Why? Because it worried that women might then be tempted to have sex-selective abortions.

Unfortunately, attempts to limit what women are allowed to learn from advanced prenatal testing are not confined to Britain. In January, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) introduced the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which aims to outlaw "discrimination against the unborn on the basis of race or sex." During a congressional hearing last year on an earlier version of the bill, Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum called that "duplicitous," because it frames itself as an "attempt to address racial and gender discrimination while actually intending to chip away at abortion rights."

For now the U.S. has no legal restrictions on what women can learn about their fetuses from genetic testing. Let's keep it that way.

Advertisement

NEXT: People Who Called Snowden a Traitor Shocked to Learn About All This Domestic Surveillance

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “This needs to be NIPT in the bud!”

    1. Damn you!

  2. Information and knowledge is dangerous. Especially in the hands of women. it is known.

    1. Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is a French phonetic corruption of a short, cloth neck ornament, currently in resurgence. Thanks to Matt Welch.

    2. I’m so proud of you right now.

      1. Thou Shalt not take the LORD’s name in vain…

  3. …there are no such limits in the U.S. yet.

    The key word here being “yet.”

  4. why do British bioethicists think Brits would have selective sex abortions? and why would they object to that?

    1. Depends on the definition of a Brit. A serious problem in some countries, messing with the number of boys and girls to be born, not to mention it is extremely unethical.

    2. 1) Because a fast growing proportion of people having children in Britain these days are from a part of the world that doesn’t let women drive or walk around unaccompanied by a male relative in public?

      2) No idea. If you’ve accepted the notion that abortion is “a woman’s choice”, then the reasons become irrelevant. “I don’t want a boy” is just as valid as “I don’t have the means to support this child” or “I’m not emotionally stable enough to raise child” or “It’s due on a Tuesday and that’s bad luck.”

      1. You know that your #2 is a strawman, right?

        Most folks are for legal abortion have much more complicated and nuanced thoughts when you talk about the morality and ethics of it.

  5. With every new door opened via technological advancement someone will always be there to say, “shouldn’t we keep it all natural?” I can understand that sentiment on all issues, but in my estimation humanity did not achieve greatness by resting within the natural order — our power has always come from bending (subverting, perverting, altering) nature to our will; it is our greatest strength.

    1. You guys were content to wait for lighting to strike to start the fire, but noooo, one of you got the bright idea to bang rocks together and now we’re stuck Trump.

    2. Right, because you’d never progress your way into a situation like:

      Bureaucrat: “Do something!”
      Subordinate: “What?!?!?”
      Bureaucrat: “I don’t know! Not nothing!”

      “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Until a bunch of people invent shitty mousetraps and die poor because we really needed to build better houses and grass roots/naturally/organically/incidentally engineer our environment better. Then, once that’s happened, stop telling people to build a better mousetrap.”

  6. Should the Government Limit What Women Can Learn from Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing?

    Bioethicists in Britain say yes.

    Yeah. So much for “My Body, My Choice?”.

  7. I don’t want to live in a world where xes and xhes are building children that are just as broken. Imagine what it will be like when you can select for victim status.

  8. To its credit, the report states that women should be able to access testing for “significant” medical conditions or impairments in the fetus.

    “If it pleases their Majesties… “

  9. the report states that women should be able to access testing for “significant” medical conditions [except] sex

    OK, if sex is not a “significant medical condition” then stop subsidizing “women’s health care”.

  10. My main reason for having NIPT when I was pregnant was so that I could find out the baby’s sex early, just because I wanted to know. I would have been happy either way, but for people who do have a strong preference, it’s better to find out early so they can get used to the idea before the baby arrives.

  11. Look, if you’re gonna keep the womenfolk barefoot and pregnant, you gotta keep ’em ignorant, too. Just keep ’em in the kitchen where they belong and they’ll never know any of this stuff is going on.

  12. The test can also identify the sex of a fetus.

    Thank Science! We can finally put this whole North Carolina bathroom issue to rest.

  13. How would a ban even be enforced? Are they going to jail women who send a blood sample out of the country for the test?

  14. At 169 pp., I’m not about to read it, so…anybody know why it “should not be used to reveal information about a fetus relating to less significant medical conditions or impairments, adult onset conditions, carrier status”? Like we should keep our impairments as long as they’re less significant, don’t appear in childhood, or skip a generation?

  15. What the fuck does a bioethicist do all day?

  16. Limits will only apply to the peasants who can’t easily send samples abroad for testing

    Rest assured that the Ruling Reptiles avail themselves of the technology they keep from the peasants

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.