Genetic Testing During Pregnancy – Good or Bad?

Genetic testing is increasing in popularity for many different areas of healthcare, and it’s well-funded and expected to keep advancing rapidly. 

Most procedures that cause a sharp divide as to whether or not they should be provided have safety concerns that lead to the contrasting opinions. That’s not the case with genetic testing during pregnancy, and most of the pros and cons are based on personal beliefs. It is not harmful to the mother at all, and can actually be preventive in nature, as the testing can spot patterns that could lead to issues in the future that can be kept at bay with care in the present. 

However, there are many questions surrounding that as well. Here is a closer look at both sides of the genetic testing during pregnancy discussion.

What Can it Provide Expectant Mothers?

The most popularized use of genetic testing for mothers is to determine the level of probability that a child may be born with a chromosomal disorder, such as Down Syndrome or Tay Sachs disease, which usually results in death within a few years after being born. 

The tests, however, do not determine whether or not an infant will 100% be born with a disorder, they simply allow for parents to know if there is a high probability for being born with a disorder. With that, there is no guarantee that a given analysis will provide mothers with anything other than anxiety.  

The tests also do not have any real side effects nor potential for pain or abuse, so it’s no real risk, but not always much reward, either. The test results can, however, lead to information that can result in therapy or even surgery can be performed while the child is still in utero, though these are not common. 

So Why Do Some People Dislike the Idea?

Reliability is the most talked about con for critics of genetic testing, and though it is improving, the industry is very careful to explain that genetic testing can only provide odds and not definite answers regarding a possible defect in an unborn child. Even The Mayo Clinic begins explaining prenatal genetic testing as “not perfect.” 

The terms “false-positive” and “false-negative” have made their way into the mainstream amidst the COVID pandemic, and the reports on the accuracy of genetic testing range from 70% to 99%, and not all false negatives can be reported. 

With that reliability in mind, the reality is that more false negatives can’t be reported because  some families have chosen to terminate pregnancies based on the information they received from a genetic test. With that, the argument can be made that there has most likely been a scenario where a perfectly healthy pregnancy was terminated due to an incorrect genetic test. 

The Verdict?

The verdict is that to say genetic testing has to be labeled as “Good” or “Bad” is oversimplifying a very layered topic. Many parts are fantastic, and some parts are a little scary. It’s still a fairly new sector of the medical world, and the fact that it’s virtually harmless to mothers means it should have plenty of funding and support from advocates to continue improving. 

Until then, though, it truly comes down to families weighing the trust they have in a given doctor, their own beliefs and feelings, and thoughts and opinions of their loved and trusted friends and family.

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