Blood test that reveals sex of fetus at 7 weeks raises ethics concerns

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A new study, showing that a simple blood test can accurately determine the sex of a fetus 95 percent of the time, is great news for parents at high risk of having a baby with rare genetic diseases. But it is bad news to those concerned that the tests could be used to abort a fetus based on gender.

Liz Szabo writing in USAToday said”


“The technology raises serious ethical concerns, says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Female fetuses are commonly aborted in India, he says. A May analysis in The Lancet estimates that between 4.2 million and 12.1 million female fetuses were “selectively” aborted in India from 1980 to 2010, a practice that is noticeably skewing the ratio of boys and girls in that country.”

The Times of India reported on the breakthrough today, saying:

“Parents-to-be usually find out whether they are having a boy or girl around 20 weeks of pregnancy, but a review study has suggested that tests using cell-free fetal DNA obtained from the mother’s blood could accurately predict fetus gender as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy.

“Review and analysis of previous studies have indicated that blood tests performed well, while urine-based tests appear to be unreliable.

“Non-invasive prenatal determination of fetal sex could provide an important alternative to invasive cytogenetic determination, which is currently the gold standard for determining sex and single-gene disorders.

“Amniocentesis has small but measurable rates of procedure-related pregnancy loss; and sonography can be performed as early as 11 weeks’ gestation to determine fetal sex, although not reliably, according to background information in the article.”

At the bottom of the Times of India report was a Google ad promoting a “No-Risk Prenatal Test.”

China, also, is notorious for its gender gap. Sex-selective abortions there have created a nation with tens of millions more boys than girls.

Bioethics experts, like Caplan, are calling for professional guidelines to prevent gender-based abortions. And, it seems that there still is time to do that, at least in the United States. Bonnie Rochman writing in Time magazine said:

“For now, the debate is mostly speculation in the U.S., where the test — estimated to cost more than $400 — is not as widely available as it is in Europe. Some companies market similar blood tests online, and others sell them in drugstores while emphasizing that they are not to be used for prenatal sex selection.”

Complete findings of the study can be found in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


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