Could prenatal DNA testing open Pandora's box?
By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer – 1 minute ago
NEW YORK (AP) — Imagine being pregnant and taking a simple blood test that lays bare the DNA of your fetus. And suppose that DNA could reveal not only medical conditions like Down syndrome, but also things like eye color and height. And the risk for developing depression or Alzheimer's disease. And the chances of being gay.
So far that's still science fiction. But scientists have been taking some baby steps in that direction. And some ethics experts say it's time to start talking now about what that could mean for parents and society.
"If no limitations are put on, you can have a couple get a prenatal genetic test in the future saying their fetus has ... a 60 percent chance of having breast cancer at the age of 60 and a 30 percent chance of being gay," says Dr. Brian Skotko, a board member of the National Down Syndrome Society.
Since such information would come early enough for an abortion, Skotko says, "The ultimate question for society is, What forms of human variation are valuable?"
Then there's the possibility of direct-to-consumer companies stepping in to fill demand, King said. Couples who go that route may miss out on getting help in understanding the nuances of what the test results really mean, said Dr. Mary Norton, a Stanford professor of obstetrics and gynecology.
Once the prenatal information is available, another question arises, King said: Should a woman be allowed to get an abortion for any reason, even a trivial one like test results about height or eye color? Some state governments have passed laws outlawing abortions on the basis of sex, she said. But it's not clear whether those are constitutional, and a woman might simply not reveal her true reasons for wanting the abortion, King said.
Skotko points out that people use their own personal perspective in deciding what they want for their children. Some couples who are deaf from a genetic condition already use current technology to avoid having children with normal hearing. "It's their lens by which they view the world, and they want a child who views the world through that same lens," he said.
Greely sees other concerns. Will the testing become so routine that women won't even realize they authorized it, and then be faced with information and an abortion decision they didn't necessarily want? How can they be helped to make an informed decision on whether to be tested? And if offered a choice of genes to be tested, or results to be told about, who will help them sort through the long list to decide what they want to know? Few doctors are informed enough, and there aren't enough genetic counselors go around, he said.
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