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Pregnant women may no longer have to submit to risky amniocentesis to determine the health of their unborn child.  The new blood test, years in the creation and testing, has moved closer to being available to the general public.  With this blood test “about 98 per cent of the invasive diagnostic procedures could be avoided,” write the authors of a new study published in The British Medical Journal.

The blood test utilizes “multiplexed maternal plasma DNA sequencing” to analyze genetic material in the blood from both the pregnant woman and the unborn child.  The separated DNA is then used to determine genetic diseases such as Down syndrome (trisomy 21) and some other less common birth defects.  In addition to not subjecting pregnant women to risk of miscarriage or infection, the blood test has the advantage over amniocentesis because it has a lower rate of false negatives (actual cases of genetic abnormalities are missed) and false positives (false diagnosis of genetic abnormalities).

This blood test has the potential to save countless unborn children by not subjecting them to the risks of amniocentesis and allowing for early diagnosis and treatment of prenatal problems.  Yet there is a darker side to the uses of this medical technology.  The test would be more exact in determining the sex of the unborn child and the more accurate information could lead to an increase in sex-selection abortions.

Experts are also concerned that the test will lead to further stigmatization of disabled people. Currently, close to 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed as having Down syndrome are aborted.  Surely a test such as this will only move that number closer to 100 percent.  We’re left to answer the question of whether or not it right to target the handicapped for extermination in the womb – such is the blessing and the curse of technology.

The blood test remains very expensive relative to the older diagnostic tools.  It is expected to be available for approximately $700.

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