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Ethical challenges in providing noninvasive prenatal diagnosis

Benn, Peter Aa; Chapman, Audrey Rb

Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology: April 2010 - Volume 22 - Issue 2 - p 128–134
doi: 10.1097/GCO.0b013e3283372352
Prenatal diagnosis: Edited by James F. Smith

Purpose of review Noninvasive prenatal diagnosis (NIPD) can potentially allow early detection of fetal genetic disorders, sex, other nonmedical traits, and paternity. We review ethical concerns associated with the imminent introduction of this testing.

Recent findings There has been inadequate scientific and medical review of some NIPD tests under development or already available as direct-to-consumer products. Test introduction is largely unregulated and this has prompted calls for greater oversight. As a replacement for current prenatal screening and diagnosis, NIPD may not necessarily identify the same spectrum of disorders. Ethicists are also concerned how women can receive adequate pretest counseling and provide a truly informed consent. Widespread use of NIPD for minor disorders, predispositions, sex, normal human variation and paternity could result in a trivialization of pregnancy termination. Other concerns include the equitable access to testing by all population subgroups. NIPD has the potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of some genetic disorders and thereby change public attitudes about the handicapped and their families.

Summary Striking the correct balance between providing only worthwhile testing and ensuring individual patients' reproductive choice will be a major challenge and it is important to begin to address the many ethical issues that NIPD raises.

aDepartment of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Division of Human Genetics, USA

bDepartment of Community Medicine and Healthcare, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut, USA

Correspondence to Peter A. Benn, PhD, DSc, University of Connecticut Health Center, Division of Human Genetics, Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, CT 06030-6140, USA Tel: +1 860 679 3614; fax: +1 860 679 3616; e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.