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The Deception of Early Genetic Screening

Posted by Heather Creekmore on Jan 13, 2022 8:00:00 AM

I'll never forget the smell of the office or those green leather chairs we sat in, nervously fidgeting as we awaited some news.

I sat on the table with my stomach exposed and covered with a cold gel. My first early ultrasound with baby number three was complete. Unlike any of my previous ultrasounds, this tech remained silent the entire time. As she wiped some of the goo off me, she said the doctor would talk to us about the results. I'd had a miscarriage just six months earlier. I knew something had to be wrong.

The tech then directed my husband and I to the adjacent office where we waited for the doctor—not my doctor, but the doctor supervising the ultrasounds—to tell us what they found.

The results? Everything looked good.

But wait? Why all the drama if the baby is fine?

What followed confused me. With a very serious tone, the doctor attempted to persuade us to have genetic testing. Since I was now thirty-five (and classified as "advanced maternal age") there was a “much higher chance” that something would be wrong with the baby. He strongly advised me to get the tests so we could, "know and make the best decisions for our future . . ."

Anger flooded my pregnant body. The hormones took over and I may have surprised the doctor with my 3-minute deliberate diatribe on how, no matter what, we were having this baby. But, he got an earful.

Annoyed, I left that day vowing to never again have a conversation about prenatal genetic testing. Next time, I'd stop them before the pitch.

But the truth is, I continued to have regular conversations about the results of these tests. As friends from all over the country were starting and growing their families, many were talked into taking them. And, most were getting reports that terrified them.

One close friend spent three weeks believing her baby would have a rare syndrome that causes heart defects. This was twenty-one days of feeling frightened, nervous, and stressed out—emotions that aren't assets to the health of a pregnant mom. After the baby grew a bit more, an ultrasound revealed that the baby's development looked normal. Months later she delivered a beautiful, healthy, little boy.

But immediately after that genetic test, her doctor offered a choice. She could have "terminated her pregnancy" early, so as not to "risk" it. And, tragically, that test she based her decision on would have been absolutely wrong.

A new report from the New York Times found that certain prenatal tests used to identify rare genetic disorders are inaccurate up to 85 percent of the time. Read that number again if you didn't catch it the first time. That means that, on average, their accuracy rate is 15 percent. Back when I was in school, we called this a failing grade. 

Prenatal screening tests like the ones studied are based on blood work that analyzes a maternal blood sample to screen for chromosomal abnormalities. Though these tests may be somewhat reliable at predicting Down syndrome, the New York Times study shows that in the case of one specific test there was a 93 percent chance of getting a false positive. 

And, I wonder, why would anyone take a test that, according to probability alone, you're going to fail? No one would ever place a Las Vegas bet on those odds. And yet, the results of these tests are impacting parents and pushing some towards early abortions.

According to a report on the Daily Wire, a 2014 study shows that 6 percent of women who received a positive test result got an abortion without getting an additional test to prove there was an actual abnormality or development problem. I don't know what the numbers are to match this percentage, but I do know that all life has value. With or without a genetic abnormality—each of these losses is a tragedy. But, any loss attributed to a false result on an unreliable test is egregious.

So who's responsible for all of this? According to the Times, it's not the government. Their piece explains that the FDA does not regulate the tests nor their marketing. This means there's also no oversight on their direct-to-consumer marketing materials—which include brochures that barely mention the chance of a false positive. The Times also talks about how the creation of these tests has become an industry all its own with profit potential in the billions. The article reports that the number of women taking these tests may double by 2025.

So what can we do? As those committed to the cause of life, we can make sure to share this information with our friends and family members, especially those who may be looking to start a family soon. 

Likewise, we can pray that the truth will be revealed and that doctors and nurses with access to this information will follow the codes of medical ethics and ensure their patients understand the unreliability of these tests.  

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