Prenatal test accuracy called into question

Prenatal testing has come a long way in recent years with the introduction of a simple blood test that promises to determine if your unborn child has a genetic or chromosomal condition. Many people see this is as a great achievement, and in some ways it is. But achievements in science should be made in order to help people, not kill them. Yet that’s just what advanced prenatal testing is doing.

What expectant parents, and even some doctors, don’t realize is that these tests are often not meant to be used to diagnose, and they have accuracy issues. The tests are meant to signal that the unborn child might be at risk for certain conditions and that more advanced testing, such as an amniocentesis, should be performed. But that isn’t how the stories always go.

The Boston Globe recently published an article on just how inaccurate these prenatal screenings can be and how that inaccuracy has led to the deaths of many healthy children, and countless children with disabilities, through abortion.

The article for the Boston Globe, by Beth Daley of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, features a woman named Stacie Chapman, who was three months pregnant when her unborn son tested positive for Edwards syndrome, or Trisomy 18. Chapman asked to terminate the pregnancy the next day. The screening test, MaterniT21 PLUS, has a 99-percent detection rate, but it’s meant only to check for certain markers of the condition, not to diagnose.

According to the NECIR who examined the accuracy of these tests over a three-month period, companies are “overselling the accuracy of their tests” and not thoroughly educating doctors or parents on the high risk of false positives. And in Chapman’s case, it was indeed a false positive.

In fact, two recent studies showed that the test results from these screenings can be wrong 50% of the time. And, according to those studies and the NECIR, the rarer the condition is, the higher the chance of a false positive.

In addition, in older women, a positive test result for Edwards syndrome is inaccurate 36% of the time. And for younger women, the rate of inaccuracy is 60%. This is according to a study by Illumina, maker of the Verifi screen.

One testing company, Natera Inc., found that 6.2 percent of women who received a positive screen for their unborn children aborted those children without getting an official diagnosis, according to the NECIR. Plus, in a Stanford University study, out of three women who aborted based on the screening alone, one did receive further testing, but didn’t believe that her baby was actually healthy and aborted anyway. That’s how much faith she had in the inaccurate, highly controversial prenatal screening test.

Thankfully, Chapman’s doctor was able to convince her to have further testing done, which showed that her unborn child did not in fact have Edwards syndrome, and therefore, Chapman did not abort her baby. However, Chapman’s quote in the Boston Globe regarding her son is heartbreaking for two reasons. One, she almost aborted her son. And two, she is devastated that she almost aborted her son, but she still would have if he had indeed had Edwards syndrome. Daley writes:

‘He is so perfect,’ Chapman, 43, said, chocking up as she watched her son play with a toy lamb. ‘I almost terminated him.’

That is where the real problem exists. The invention of prenatal screening tests has turned parents and doctors into egocentric judges of people with disabilities. Rather than doctors fulfilling their promise to protect life and parents fulfilling their parental duty of unconditionally taking care of their children, doctors and parents are now sentencing children to death because those children failed to pass a test.

From Edwards syndrome to cystic fibrosis, parents are choosing to abort their children because those children aren’t what they were expecting. And if they later find out that the tests were wrong and their children were healthy, only then do they see the error of their ways.

Suddenly, that child’s life has value. Suddenly, that child was worthy of life. Suddenly, parents realize just what they have done. But sadly, they would have done it again if the tests had indeed been accurate.

So now not only do we live in a society in which abortion is often expected if the child has a health condition, but we live in a society in which we abort children suspected of having a health condition based on an inaccurate test and ask questions later.

Prenatal testing should be used to discover health conditions so that parents can be prepared and can line up a team of doctors to help care for their children. But, instead, we use it to weed out those we feel are not suitable to be given a chance at life. So obsessed are we with perfection that we have lost sight of where true beauty lives, and that is in allowing others to live and be loved for who they are for as long as they are given.

Choosing to end someone’s life because you think his life will be too difficult is the ultimate form of discrimination. We’ve fooled ourselves into believing that it’s an act of mercy. And thanks to the power of prenatal testing, more and more children are being condemned because of a prejudices and stereotypes.

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