Friday, January 12, 2007

The Dangers of Genetic “Counseling”

In an earlier post expressing my displeasure for amniocentesis, I was engaged in the comments by Joe Carter who suggested the following:

“Third, your ethical objection is unsound. If a parent is opposed to abortion on moral grounds then they should never be tempted to kill their child. Saying that parents should remain ignorant about the genetic defects a child might possess since it might lead them to kill their baby is a perverse view of the moral situation.”

My ethical objection to which Joe was responding was this:

“I reject this proposal for widespread testing on ethical grounds. These tests are not perfect and they place the parent in an impossible situation. To be told that your child has a certain percentage likelihood of a genetic defect is too much. Parents are at their most vulnerable at this time.”

In the comment string, after noting the high number of false positives, I promised to flesh out these ethical objections more clearly. That is what this post is about.

A True Story

When my wife was pregnant with our son, we were advised to seek “genetic counseling” due to some statistical abnormalities that appeared during routine blood work. We made an appointment at the Credit Valley Hospital and met with a genetic counselor.

We were told that there was a small percentage that our son would be born with Down Syndrome and advised to have an amniocentesis. The counselor spoke in hushed tones with a very serious look on her face then left us to watch a video.

The video showed two boys of equal age playing in a living room. One of the boys was cute and active and bright. The other was drooling on himself, with a disfigured face, frumpy clothes and awkward small motor skills.

The video asked us: Is this what you want?

I was outraged.

The Point

For my wife and I there was no question that we were going to keep our baby. But we had a game plan going in to this. The point of the graphic video was clear – you don’t want to give birth to a kid like this! Think of the hardship and disappointment and mess and frustration.... just “terminate the pregnancy.”

Parents are placed under enormous pressure when they walk in to medical establishments that pop off lots of statistics, show propaganda and use the power of suggestion. In our situation, I can identify all three of those things.

And to be honest, in the whirlwind of the moment, it was a little hard to think straight. Once we got out of the office and prayed and talked, the truth came into greater focus and it was a no-brainer what to do.

How This Relates to Amniocentesis

Besides being an invasive procedure that can cause miscarriage, amniocentesis is being used as a test to weed out unwanted children – whether for their sex, genetic make-up or something else. This was expressly stated in the original article I quoted. I say it is unethical to subject parents to that kind of pressure.