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The ethical considerations of Prenatal testing: Is knowing always more beneficial?

“Prenatal testing is a complicated decision for many women, forcing us to confront concerns of about a disabled child and a miscarriage.”

Emily Oster, best selling author of “Parenting by the numbers”

As technology evolves, the more genetic properties of a foetus we can predict and analyze. Prenatal testing, for that matter, is a technology developed to assess the likelihood of a mother carrying a foetus with a cell mutation or genetic condition. This can be accessed in the first trimester of the mother’s pregnancy. However, as these technologies become more available, the more people rely on them for internal relief for the potential of their newborn.

With this, my goal for this catalyst conference project is not only to discuss the ethical standpoints of this topic but to also provide information where both sides of the issue can be met inclusively with alternative and supportive options within a community-based setting.

 What are the ethical standpoints to consider?

What elements demonstrate that Prenatal testing can be unethical?

Nonmaleficence towards the foetus: Invasive Prenatal testing such as amniocentesis, assesses the likelihood of a mother developing a foetus with Down Syndrome, by injecting a needle into the mother’s uterus to extract amniotic fluid surrounding the foetus. Following this, there becomes a risk of a total miscarriage, infections or other injuries to the foetus. This can cause more harm to the foetus itself than to not have Prenatal testing predominantly. 

The autonomy/beneficence of the foetus: The foetus has no autonomy over its body or the decisions made upon it because it can not verbalise an opinion. This means the foetus entirely relies on its mother to act with beneficence towards it. If the mother chooses to terminate the foetus after gaining knowledge after the prenatal testing, the foetus is ultimately harmed. 

 

How does society pose an influence?

For centuries, genetic mutations such as Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) have been perceived poorly by the nature of society. In World War II, Hilter formed a euthanise program for those living with Down Syndrome or other cell mutations. He described the lives of these people “a life not worth living”. We obviously do not see this level of discriminatory extremity in modern society. However, it gives an idea of the impact society has on others’ existences and society’s intentional/unintentional want for a dystopian world. This is why this topic can be so controversial as decisions can be influenced by not only risks and benefits, but society’s interests.

This poses the question, is it more beneficial for the mother to know the genetic make-up of the foetus at all? Today, people feel comfortable living life indistinguishable from others. Mothers might worry what others may think of them if they chose to give birth to a child who may be considered “different” to society and may worry about how their child would fit in with others. This is why having Prenatal testing allows time for the stereotypes of society to influence decisions.

Here is a youtube clip of a family’s perspective on living with a child with a cell mutation

Here is an additional video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcFjzUazsB4

What elements demonstrate that Prenatal testing can be considered ethical?

The autonomy of the parent: Ultimately, the decision made by the parent to have Prenatal testing should not be questioned as this choice can differ depending on the person. Questioning a person’s decision to have prenatal testing can be invasive itself as it is significantly personal.

Preparation: Prenatal testing may allow mothers to prepare for their child more appropriatly based on the predicted needs. This would act with beneficence to all mothers, to prepare the environment possible for the best quality of life of their child. In other cases, some parents may not be ready to raise a child with a mutation or a child in general.

 

Can there be a middle ground?

In my local community, after further investigation, I obtained multiple establishments that proceed to evaluate both sides of this ethical topic.

These are:

 

 

 

What are your ethical considerations on this topic?

In my opinion, there is no right or wrong answer to this ethical question as the reasons for testing can be different for everyone, depending on the circumstance. This is why the importance of evaluating both sides of the equation can help to decide what is best for any given person. However, I would like to know your opinion on this topic to gather further insight into the perspectives evident within this topic in the comments section bellow. 

So I ask:

  • What do you justify is the most ethical conclusion to this topic? i.e. are you for or against Prenatal testing?

 

  • What do you consider is the most controversial about this topic, and why?

 

  • Are there any other possible opportunities/resources that you believe satisfy both of the viewpoints justified?

 

Here is the link to the resources I used: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nrf4JB5CFWfmhlUAPfpsCgTb8DE8cxj_k1f9rIGIklE/edit?usp=sharing

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COMMENTS: 7
  1. April 23, 2020 by Adam Forsyth

    Hannah – thank you for choosing this for your project! Your project sheds light onto an important topic which is so often hidden away and not discussed openly; I feel it is important that young people give consideration to this issue well in advance of being prospective parents. I’m certain your work will challenge everyone who interacts with it to think more deeply about prenatal testing. Well done!

  2. April 23, 2020 by Iman

    Hi Hannah,

    This is a really interesting topic that you chose to focus on.

    To answer your first question, I would say that personally I wouldn’t get prenatal testing but others should still have the opportunity to get the test (I believe that this is the stance that people also take on the topic of abortions). Just because it doesn’t line up with my morals doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be accessible to others. There are many reasons why people would want to get the test other than not wanting their child to be different. They may not be able to financially support a child with special needs or they don’t have the proper resources to take care of them. This is a question that’s more complicated than a simple yes or no, but these are my initial thoughts on the issue.
    To answer your second question, I think the most controversial thing about this topic is the idea of parents choosing whether or not to have a disabled child. If parents terminate their pregnancy after learning that their child will have down syndrome, it creates a stigma against genetic disorders and puts in the minds of the people in the society that down syndrome is not “normal” and not accepted. It can be seen as the parents not thinking that a child with down syndrome is “good enough” for them to have and raise.
    For your final question, one guideline that could be put in place is that parents can get the test but wouldn’t be allowed to terminate the pregnancy on the basis of “I don’t want a child with down syndrome.” It’s not perfect and there are a lot of issues that could arise with this, but it’s something to consider and could be a first step in finding a middle ground for the multiple perspectives people have.

    Great work on this project!

    -Iman

  3. April 24, 2020 by Linda Bonnitcha

    Hi Hanna
    Well done on your project. This is an interesting and controversial topic. It really shows us how people are faced with making decisions, and trying to understand why they make will always be hard as we are not them. Whilst everyone will have their reasoning, ethically and morally these decisions certainly cannot be easy for any person to make. Well done in opening up conversations around this topic!

  4. April 26, 2020 by Michelle

    Hi Hannah! This is an extremely interesting and well-done project. I haven’t seen many articles or conversations happening about this topic, so your project was helpful because I learned a lot of new information. Thank you for including that helpful video as well! Great work.

  5. April 26, 2020 by Charlotte

    Hi Hannah! This topic is definitely one that is really complex and challenging to have a conversation about. I think you did a really great job at bringing light to this ethical dilemma and not necessarily taking sides, but providing important information. I definitely learned a lot and liked engaging with the video you provided. Great job on the hard work!

  6. April 26, 2020 by Angela

    This is an interesting topic that I haven’t known much about until now. I’m realizing how difficult this subject is, and I do not know where I stand on this matter. I think it is great that you are introducing different perspectives as well as their pros/cons to start discussions on this topic. Well done, Hannah!

  7. April 27, 2020 by Molly

    Hi Hannah! This is a really interesting topic that really left me thinking. To answer your questions, I think that prenatal testing should be available to people if they would like the option, but not to be forced on everyone. I think it should be up to the woman who is pregnant on whether or not she should get testing as it is her body and her pregnancy. I don’t know whether or not I would get prenatal testing, I think it completely depends on other factors.
    I think that the most controversial thing about this topic is whether or not the parents decide to terminate their pregnancy if they find out they have a disabled child after getting prenatal testing. As the video said, people have chosen not to continue with their pregnancy as they would seem weird for not having a “normal” child.
    I haven’t really looked at this topic a lot so I haven’t seen anything that satisfies both viewpoints, but I think your project really helped to educate people not necessarily on one side, which is really important in a topic this controversial.
    Great job overall!

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