Talking about disability in prenatal genetic counseling: a report of two interactive workshops

J Genet Couns. 2012 Feb;21(1):17-23. doi: 10.1007/s10897-011-9410-9. Epub 2011 Oct 25.


Women are commonly offered testing in pregnancy to determine the health of their baby. An important component of informed decision-making about prenatal testing is provision of relevant, accurate, meaningful information concerning the conditions that are being tested for--many of which, such as Down syndrome, are associated with a varying degree of physical and intellectual disability. A range of health professionals, including genetic counselors, may provide information and support throughout the testing process, but available data suggest that discussion of disability is frequently absent or limited. To investigate genetic counselors' perceptions of this situation and identify potential barriers to discussion we facilitated interactive workshops at the 2007 National Society of Genetic Counselors Annual Education Conference (NSGC) and the 2008 European Meeting on Psychosocial Aspects of Genetics (EMPAG). Working groups identified relevant psychosocial issues and impediments to discussion (NSGC) or used a two-part scenario to promote discussion (EMPAG) and reported findings in notes and a closing plenary discussion. Inductive content analysis revealed that participants considered informed decision making to be a major reason for presenting information about disabilities in prenatal genetic counseling and endorsed the value of including information about daily life with Down syndrome and other disabilities. However, they identified three broad types of impediments to such discussion: counseling issues concerning the most appropriate manner to discuss disability under the complex circumstances of prenatal genetic counseling, less than optimal training and experience in addressing these issues, and perceived limitations in the participants' knowledge and understanding of life with disability. Our analysis of the responses from the workshop participants and additional thoughts on these issues have led us to develop recommendations for further research, training and clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Congresses as Topic
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling / methods*
  • Genetic Counseling / psychology
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training / standards*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods*
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / psychology
  • Professional-Patient Relations*