This week, a drug company called Sequenom has made their prenatal blood test, MaterniT21, available in select markets.  This is the test I made reference to in a post or two over the summer:  it’s the test that can examine fetal DNA from a maternal blood sample.  What this means is that it can provide the information that, until now, could only be gotten from amniocentesis or CVS, and these are tests that carry a risk of miscarriage.

Well, I say it can provide the information that an amnio or CVS provides.  These are tests that examine fetal genetics for a wide range of things.  MaterniT21 looks for one thing, and one thing only:  Down syndrome.

Amber Cantrell and I have interviewed quite a few women as part of an extended research project. Those who’ve chosen not to have an amnio or a cvs have said this was because of the risk of miscarriage.  A maternal blood test carries no risk of miscarriage, and it can be done quite a bit earlier in the pregnancy than an amniocentesis.  Earlier in the pregnancy matters because 90% of people who discover through testing that their fetus has Down syndrome decide to terminate the pregnancy.  If you can learn that your fetus has Down syndrome earlier in the pregnancy, abortion is safer and easier.

As you all know, I am a big advocate of reproductive rights, so this isn’t a post saying that folks shouldn’t have abortions.  It’s a post saying that I’m interested in seeing how this new technology affects our conversations about parenthood and disability.  We’re a culture that often lets technology–rather than thoughtful ethical conversations, for instance–take the lead.  So where will this technology lead us?  What will it mean for the decision-making processes of women who are pregnant?  What will it mean for people, like my daughter, who have Down syndrome?

Cross-posted at Baxter Sez.