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New pre-birth screening method raising concerns

PHOENIX — Researchers at the University of Washington are boasting they
have the most accurate pre-birth screening method in existence.

The
researchers take a blood sample from the pregnant mother, and a saliva
sample from the father, and with 98 percent accuracy they can map out the
unborn child’s entire genome, basically providing a blueprint of the child’s DNA.

“I think the technology can be very impressive, but the use of it is going to
be problematic,” said Dr. Stephan Amato, a medical geneticist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The scan can be used to test for the potential of deadly or debilitating
health conditions and give doctor and parents a percentage of risk, which
worries Amato.

“People could make very rash decisions to terminate a pregnancy because
the child has a 30 percent chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease, or a
chance to contract cancer down the road,” said Amato, pointing out that
many conditions the test screens for come later in life.

Amato said the test is a double-edged sword; on one hand, the
information could help doctors treat the unborn baby in order
to prevent certain conditions. However, some conditions can’t be treated,
and it could cause parents to worry more.

Amato said other pre-birth screenings exist, although they don’t have
the same degree of accuracy. The new test costs anywhere from $20,000 to
$50,000.