A new Down syndrome blood test has recently been released that will allow parents to detect whether or not their baby will have Down syndrome more safely in the pregnancy, without the risk of miscarriage.
Although its arrival should not come as much surprise, a new Down syndrome blood test will certainly raise ethical concerns surrounding the use of advancing technology in medicine. Because when it’s all said and done, the crux of the matter rests on the moral question: if the baby tests positive for Down syndrome, what will parents do with these results?
Now the researchers from China who created this safe and relatively noninvasive test say they want to provide future parents with accurate and timely information. But what does that really imply? Certainly, having this test available will allow parents to prepare for a child with Down syndrome which, based on my own professional experience, is a good thing. Again, the nice thing about this test, in comparison to amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS), is the relative ease in performing the test. There are no risks of miscarriage (which occur about 1 in every 200 cases of both amniocentesis and CVS testing) or infection or amniotic fluid issues.
But as mentioned above, while this blood test will make it safer for mothers to determine if their child has Down syndrome, with more knowledge, many more women/parents would be faced with the decision of what to do with the pregnancy... either to continue or terminate.
Now, I am not here to judge how someone would interpret and proceed with the information provided with the testing, but I do think that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to follow. Advancing technology will eventually lead to the design of other tests determining other potential medical or physical conditions resulting in very difficult decision making. So where do we draw the line? Or, in fact, have we already crossed it?