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Ethics experts question prenatal testing

Publication Date: 
June 28, 2011
The Detroit News
Malcolm Ritter/ Associated Press

Professor Hank Greely spoke with Malcolm Ritter of the Associated Press on how new prenatal DNA tests may eventually be able to test up to 100 to 200 diseases over the next 10 years.

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.

Scanning fetal DNA from a blood test will be "without question a major medical advance that promises to greatly improve current prenatal care," says Jaime King, an associate professor at the UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco who studies genetic testing. But bringing it into practice "raises significant practical, legal, ethical and social challenges," she says.


Within five to 10 years, doctors may be able to test for 100 or 200 diseases, many of them rare, estimates Stanford University law professor Hank Greely, who studies the implications of biomedical technologies.