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This is the first of a two-part series on prenatal testing and the ethical issues raised by it.

Publication Date: 
June 11, 2011
Associated Press

Professor Hank Greely spoke with Malcolm Ritter of the Associated Press about prenatal testing and how a new blood test may change the way expectant mothers learn their unborn child has Down syndrome.

The results of the blood test revealed only a risk, but when she saw them, she still threw up. Now she had to find out for sure.

So she lay on her back at a doctor's office, praying, comforted by her Christian faith and her mother at her side, while a needle was slipped into her belly.

Erin Witkowski of Port Jervis, New York, was going to find out whether the baby she was carrying had Down syndrome.


Hank Greely, a Stanford University law professor, said women sign forms for plenty of blood tests during prenatal care and often don't focus on them. Many California women are surprised to learn they had authorized the screening test for Down syndrome, he said.

If these tests are someday replaced by the new blood test, many women may be told out of the blue not simply that they are at risk, but that in fact their baby almost surely has Down syndrome, Greely says.