This is an interesting development:
A first-trimester screening test can reliably identify fetuses likely to be born with Down syndrome, providing expectant women with that information much earlier in a pregnancy than current testing allows, according to a major study being released today.
The eagerly awaited study of more than 38,000 U.S. women — the largest ever conducted — found that the screening method, which combines a blood test with an ultrasound exam, can pinpoint many fetuses with the common genetic disorder 11 weeks after conception. That allows women to decide sooner whether to undergo the riskier follow-up testing needed to confirm the diagnosis.
“This is a big deal for women. It’s going to have a big impact on care for women, not just in the United States but throughout the world,” said Fergal D. Malone of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, who led the study published in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The obvious immediate impact will be felt strongest in the context of the abortion debate. I remember hearing a physician (a pediatrician from California, if I remember correctly) discussing how few Down Syndrome patients he sees compared to 20-30 years ago, and explained that this, in large part could be explained by couples electively choosing to abort babies who had signs of severe disability. I have, of course, no way to verify the anecdotal evidence offered by the good doctor, but it is something to think about.
While we have discussions about whether designer babies are a rubicon we want to cross, it may be that people already are making decisions simimlar to this, and it opens up a whole range of ethical and moral questions. I do remember that one of the main early opponents to studies demonstrating a genetic component to homosexuality came from within the homosexual community, for obvious reasons.
Just things to think about, and more evidence that life (or at least the tough decisions) does not necessarily get any easier with great advances in technology.