The impact of ethical beliefs on decisions about prenatal screening tests: searching for justification

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Feb;66(3):753-64. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.10.010. Epub 2007 Nov 8.


Prenatal screening for Down's syndrome and other chromosomal anomalies has become common obstetrical practice. The purpose of this intervention is to provide women with the information needed to make informed reproductive choices. It is assumed that the ethical beliefs of parents play an important role in decision-making about whether to undergo testing, but little is known about their precise significance. More insight into how women conceptualize their choice of using prenatal screening tests may clarify the impact of personal ethical beliefs. With this aim, we conducted qualitative research consisting of semi-structured interviews with 59 women in the Netherlands who were offered a prenatal screening test. The analysis showed that the ethical views between acceptors and decliners showed similar diversity. In contrast with the currently accepted view, we conclude that ethical beliefs are one of the factors implicated in the decision. Women decide about prenatal testing by balancing the information provided by the test against the risks of further investigation, the emotional burden of a disabled child on their well-being and life perspective, as well as on those of family members. Normative moral principles are introduced once the choice is made, namely as factors in justifying and supporting the decision.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disabled Children / psychology
  • Down Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Ethics*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Parents / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*
  • Qualitative Research