Prenatal genetic testing and screening: constructing needs and reinforcing inequities

Am J Law Med. 1991;17(1-2):15-50.


This Article considers the influence and implications of the application of genetic technologies to definitions of disease and to the treatment of illness. The concept of "geneticization" is introduced to emphasize the dominant discourse in today's stories of health and disease and the social construction of biological phenomenon is described. The reassurance, choice and control supposedly provided by prenatal genetic testing and screening are critically examined, and their role in constructing the need for such technology is addressed. Using the stories told about prenatal diagnosis as a focus, the consequences of a genetic perspective for and on women and their health care needs are explored.

PIP: Over the last 20 years, a growing number of techniques have been developed which allow geneticists to determine the physical condition of a fetus. These tests constitute the most widespread application of genetic technology for humans. The primary focus of this paper is to examine and discuss how disease categories and biomedical practices are constructed within their cultural context. Also, technical information regarding prenatal diagnosis is discussed. There are assumptions already built into how medicine and society views defects or abnormalities. Genetic screening is offered as a method of detecting a fetus with defects, thus giving women the choice to abort the fetus. However, another way of looking at the whole situation is to question whether our society may have a defect for not being able to accept people with disabilities or abnormalities. A physical abnormality often only becomes a problem when it is put in a social context. The use of genetic testing is clearly more of a social use of genetic technology than a medical use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Genetic Testing* / psychology
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Maternal Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis* / psychology
  • Social Values