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New 'Genetic Abnormalities' Test Raises 'Many Ethical Questions

"...it may broaden the availability of genetic screening to more patients..."

A new, non-invasive genetic test could evaluate up to 3,500 different genetic abnormalities. Using only a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father, unlike other genetic tests that could harm the developing fetus, this procedure comes with no risk. Still, according to the Daily Telegraph, some are concerned about the "many ethical questions" that such a test raises.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the blood sample from the mother is taken at 18 weeks of pregnancy. Pro-life advocates fear this test, which is not yet widely available, will lead to more abortions of fetuses found with genetic defects.

The test tried by researchers at the University of Washington was a result of mapping the "baby genome." ABC news has more on how this research was conducted:

Scientists at the University of Washington took blood samples of a woman  who was 18 weeks pregnant, and saliva from her partner to map the fetus’s DNA. The method was then repeated in another couple.

They then  reconstructed the genetic code of the unborn baby, then tested the accuracy of the results by using umbilical cord blood after the baby  was born.

“The primary significance of this is that  …  it may broaden the availability of genetic screening to more patients, while at the same time screening for much larger panels of disorders than can currently be detected,” said Jacob Kitzman, lead author of the study.

The new procedure can test for, among thousands of diseases,  spina bifida and Down syndrome, the most common genetic disorders in the U.S. , and is safer than amniocentesis.

This new test was found to be 98 percent accurate compared to the genetic outcome of the baby once it was born.

ABC goes on to report that amniocentesis can increase the risk for miscarriage, which is why only about 200,000 of these tests are performed every year in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Some ethicists say the less risky test is beneficial as it is safer for the developing fetus, whereas others believe it will lead to termination of those with abnormalities. NDTV reports Pro-Life Alliance Founder Josephine Quintavalle saying "it is difficult to imagine that this new test will not lead to more abortions."

"In my experience, full information for parents permits ethical decisions for a family,” Dr. F. Sessions Cole, professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis, told ABC. ”A longer term ethical issue concerning the ability to predict disease development in later childhood or adulthood from fetal DNA will also need to be addressed. Hopefully, this new information will prompt development of nutritional, pharmacologic, behavioral, environmental, and other strategies to reduce genetic disease risk."

Watch this NBC Los Angeles report for more:

The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

[H/T Drudge Report]

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