Tomorrow's prenatal genetic testing. Should we test for 'minor' diseases?

Arch Fam Med. 1993 Nov;2(11):1187-93. doi: 10.1001/archfami.2.11.1187.


New genetic knowledge will make it possible to test prenatally for a wide range of fetal genetic characteristics. One consequence will be an expansion of potential reasons for selective abortion following prenatal testing. It will likely become possible for patients to request prenatal testing and abortion not only for serious diseases but also relatively mild diseases, late-onset diseases, treatable diseases, elevated risks for common diseases, and eventually nondisease characteristics, such as height and body build. Two main ethical views concerning prenatal testing have been advocated: (1) Prenatal testing should be restricted to the "most severe" disorders, involving profound retardation, severe physical handicaps, or prolonged physical suffering and (2) Patients' requests for prenatal tests should be honored except for diseases considered to be "too minor." At least two additional views can be identified: (3) Physicians should honor requests for prenatal testing for diseases, including relatively minor ones, but not requests pertaining to nondisease characteristics and (4) All requests for prenatal tests should be honored. A difficulty with the first and second views is that they deviate from the norm of nondirectiveness in prenatal testing and counseling. The problems with the fourth view are that it leads to abortions for morally trivial reasons and that attempts to design our children could adversely affect parent-child relationships and exacerbate current social inequities. These considerations support the third view, which holds that the future role of reproductive genetic testing and counseling should be based on the imperfect, but helpful, distinction between disease and nondisease.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn*
  • Genetic Enhancement*
  • Genetic Testing* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*
  • Social Values
  • United States