Aborting babies based on faulty pre-natal testing assumptions

Aborting babies based on faulty pre-natal testing assumptions

The Contemplation of Moral Theology blog notes a news story about new revelations in human genetics and what that means for pre-natal testing. The story appears in Canada’s Globe and Mail with the headline “Study turns human genetics on its head.” It finds that there is much greater variation in human genetics that previously thought possible.

Using new technology to study the genomes of 270 volunteers from four corners of the world, researchers have found that while people do indeed inherit one chromosome from each parent, they do not necessarily inherit one gene from mom and another from dad.

One parent can pass down to a child three or more copies of a single gene. In some cases, people can inherit as many as eight or 10 copies. In rare instances a person might be missing a gene.

Yet despite these anomalies, they still appear to be healthy—countering the notion of what doctors have deemed “normal” in genetics.

You can see where this is going. Pre-natal testing looks for genetic anomalies which are presumed to be mutations that result in birth defects. Often the presence of such “anomalies” are the occasion for doctors pressuring their patients to abort the children. My own sister had received such pressures when she was pregnant with her first child, Kateri, who turned out to be perfectly healthy with no lingering health problems, and again with her most recent child, Cecilia, born just a couple of weeks ago.

For this reason, scientists agree that doctors looking at less-detailed genetic tests—such as karyotyping—might have mistaken unusually-sized bits of DNA as signs of a medical problem.

Patients, or prospective parents receiving results of a prenatal test, for instance, might have been informed that something looked abnormal when, the new work suggests, it isn’t.

While the aborting of any baby, whether he has anomalies and mutations or not, is abhorrent, it is especially tragic that so many parents were given reasons to abort their children when no such cause existed in the first place. Yet another reason not to do pre-natal genetic testing.

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