In December 2014, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) released its research into the new non-invasive prenatal-screening tests that are now being offered to pregnant women.
These tests look at minute amounts of placental DNA that are in the mother’s blood. This small amount of fetal DNA can be detected as early as 10-weeks’ gestation. The tests only require a blood sample, and they give a couple a non-invasive, early look at the genetic health of their unborn baby.
The NECIR exposé, titled “Oversold and Misunderstood,” is shocking. While many of the companies offering these new screens, which are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, tout that the tests are “99% accurate,” the center uncovered that these tests gave false alarms nearly half the time, especially for rare chromosomal abnormalities like trisomy 13.
This means that perfectly healthy fetuses are being aborted because of the results of these screens. The NECIR reports: “And at Stanford University, there have been at least three cases of women aborting healthy fetuses that had received a high-risk screen result.” “The worry is women are terminating without really knowing if [the initial test result] is true or not,” said Athena Cherry, professor of pathology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, whose lab examined the cells of the healthy aborted fetuses. In one of the three Stanford cases, the woman actually obtained a confirmatory test and was told the fetus was fine, but aborted anyway because of her faith in the screening company’s accuracy claims. “She felt it couldn’t be wrong,” Cherry said.
The NECIR concludes that “companies are overselling the accuracy of their tests.”
It is a tragedy when any child is aborted, for sure, but it seems particularly horrifying that babies are being torn from their mothers’ wombs because of misleading, even predatory, marketing.
How has this happened? When did we become a society where the lives of the next generation hinge on the results of a single test that is not even regulated by the FDA?
As someone who has performed genetic testing for thousands of patients, I can say that the problem is deep and multifaceted.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly