Sunday, May 29, 2005

Could Amniocentesis Go the Way of "the Shave?"

Australian scientists have had success with a prenatal genetic sampling test that uses fetal cells from the mother's cervical mucus. Their early numbers are encouraging, though they still want to test against a larger sample size.

If the test's early promise is well-founded, women could go in for a simple vaginal swab instead of amniocentesis to learn more about their baby's genetic characteristics.

The question that comes immediately to my mind is whether this will cause more worry than it will resolve. If it is an easier, less-risky procedure, will more women elect it? Will it become part of the "standard" prenatal screening that currently includes the AFP (or triple, or quad or its successor) test and an ultrasound? You could have a situation where the small population subjected to the risks of amnio is replaced by the entire (hospital managed) pregnant population.

If so, I suspect more women will receive disappointing or possibly disappointing news during their pregnancies. Then they may have to wrangle with decisions about aborting the pregnancy or, if not, preparing for the prospect of life with a disabled child.

It's the same dilemma faced by a subset of pregnant women today: whether to expose the cherished illusion of a perfect baby to the critical eye of modern science. Only soon it may present itself as innocently as a box of Q-tips instead of as a very long and threatening needle.


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