According to a new report, tests to check the sex of unborn children should be banned and a close eye should be kept on private companies and manufactures that provide non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPT).
This test involves measuring genetic markers by extracting a blood sample from the mother at close to two and a half months of pregnancy.
The reported highlighted that such tests should not be conducted unless there is a medical emergency
Moreover, these tests are carried out by private companies, and that in the UK some women do carry out abortions based on the sex of their child. As the popularity of these tests grow in the UK, it is feared that many women will start coming to the country just for such operations, which the authors term as “sex selection tourism.”
Since the tests are carried out by private sector corporations, there is a huge self-interest vested in these tests, so these companies might try to misinform the public by unethical advertisements.
For these reasons, the authors urge check and balances in place to monitor the marketing strategies of NIPT manufacturers, clinics and hospitals. Although the authors noted that there were some good practices being followed, there were still a lot of shortcomings.
The shortcomings included a lack of adequate information about the limitations and the conditions being tested by both private hospitals/clinics and manufacturing companies.
The authors therefore urged the private sector to be more regulated and the marketing strategies to be monitored by the Committee of Advertising Practice.
The report also raised concern over the fact that private clinics do not offer the necessary support to women.
The committee also called for the test to come as a complete package that includes at least both pre and post-test counselling and follow-up invasive diagnostic tests, if the need be. Furthermore, the report further backed the government’s decision to make prenatal tests for Patau, Down’s and Edwards syndromes as second stage screening tests. It also called for further tests for medical conditions that can cause severe impairment.
The test have to be taken with a grain of salt, though, as it should only be conducted in the case that non-invasive testing offers a close representation of whether the fetus suffers from the condition or not and the non-invasive test should be only used as a diagnostic measure mostly.
The committee further advised that the test should not be used for insignificant medical conditions.
Such tests do not offer any medical benefits in terms of diagnosis and there is always a kind of uncertainty about such tests, plus there was no upside about knowing these genetic changes in terms of medical benefits.
Chair of the Nuffield Council’s working group on NIPT and professor of disability research at the University of East Anglia, Tom Shakespeare, said,” If the test is used without limits for other kinds of genetic conditions and traits, it could lead to more anxiety, more invasive diagnostic tests, and could change what we think of as a ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ baby.”
He further added, “We therefore think the test should generally be used only for significant medical conditions that would affect a baby at birth or in childhood.”
President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), Lesley Regan said it was quite vital that couples were able to make more informed choices based on the NIPT results, which can make future of the child safer.
Some researchers were dubious about the report, as they felt the report was unfairly biased against NITP.
Director of policy at the Genetic Alliance UK Nick Meade was supported extra prenatal tests for Patau, Down’s and Edwards syndromes, but felt that no-invasive tests were being minimized while invasive tests were more broadly available at a later stage of pregnancy.
He said that these steps would create obstacles in the flow of information that enable parents to make better choices about their reproductive rights.
Prenatal screening is becoming quite common in the US, as millions of women have access to them, but non-invasive tests put extra stress on women as they lack the education to process the results.