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Should You Engage in Prenatal Testing?

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 5/31/2010

Have you ever thought about prenatal genetic testing? Learn more about this option so you can make the right decision for your family.

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    Prenatal genetic testing is a relatively new medical test. It helps pregnant mothers determine if they are carrying a gene that can result in their baby having a genetic disorder, when combined with a similar gene. Those who have genetic diseases in their family, or genetic defects, or women with a history of miscarriage are recommended to have prenatal genetic testing done. Women over the age of 35 are also recommended to have this testing when pregnant due to a high risk of their baby being born with a genetic disorder.

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    This testing can be considered two separate tests. Maternal serum screening is the first test that is done. With this tests, a blood sample is taken from the mother and it is then analyzed to determine if the baby is at risk for developing genetic disorders, such as neural tube defect, Down syndrome, and trisomy 18. However, this test cannot 100 percent predict if one of these diseases will be present, but can only tell whether the baby is at a low risk or high risk.

    If this test shows a high risk, women can undergo a second test known as amniocentesis. Women who go through this test will have a sample of their amniotic fluid taken and analyzed. This test is said to have a 98 percent accuracy rate.

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    Pros and Cons of Prenatal Genetic Testing

    Many health practitioners consider genetic testing to be useful, but like with all testing there are pros and cons that all patients should weigh prior to having it done.

    The pros include:

    • In some cases, the problems an unborn baby could have are able to be rectified before birth. In these cases, knowing whether or not a genetic defect allows health practitioners to correct the problem, or at least prepare for it so they can prepare for surgery or get a treatment plan devised prior to the baby's birth.
    • Though not the most popular choice among new parents, prenatal genetic testing gives parents to option to terminate the pregnancy if they know they are unable to take on the responsibilities, both physical and emotional, of a baby with genetic abnormalities. Many parents actually do opt for an abortion due to the fact that they do not want to see their child suffer.
    • Those who choose not to undergo an abortion, can benefit from this testing because it will allow them to prepare for a baby with genetic abnormalities. Once the testing is complete, the parents can talk to their doctors and go through counseling to help them prepare and make hard decisions.

    The cons include:

    • Some people are simply against genetic testing and feel that it creates anxiety due to the results. Just because the unborn baby must have a genetic mutation, doesn't mean the baby will definitely have an issue. This leads to testing accuracy and the fact that it is not 100 percent.
    • Others feel that aborting a baby, regardless of their potential of being born with genetic abnormalities, is simply not right. Various religious groups believe that no human has this power.
    • Another con of prenatal genetic testing is the cost. This testing is very expensive and not all insurance companies are prepared to cover the costs.
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    Women's Health. (2010). Understanding the Pros and Cons of Prenatal Genetic Testing. Retrieved on May 31, 2010 from Women's Health:

    Medline Plus. (2010). Genetic Testing. Retrieved on May 31, 2010 from Medline Plus: