The Morality of Prenatal Diagnosis
by Matt C. Abbott
22 April 2004
Prenatal diagnosis, like so many other technological advances, can be used for good or evil purposes.
(also known as prenatal genetic testing) -- procedures such as amniocentesis,
chorionic villus sampling (CVS), maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and
ultrasonography -- in and of itself, is not evil. But it can be evil if the
intention of undergoing such testing is to procure an abortion if the unborn
child is determined to be "defective."
teaching provides the best argument on this matter. As the Vatican
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's document Donum Vitae (1987) explains:
[Prenatal diagnosis] permits, or makes it possible to anticipate earlier
and more effectively, certain therapeutic, medical, or surgical procedures.
Such diagnosis is permissible...if the methods employed safeguard the life
and integrity of the embryo and the mother, without subjecting them to disproportionate
risks. But this diagnosis is gravely opposed to the moral law when it is
done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion depending upon the
conclusion, any directive or program of the civil and health authorities
or of scientific organizations which in any way were to favor a link between
prenatal diagnosis and abortion, or which were to go as far as directly to
induce expectant mothers to submit to prenatal diagnosis planned for the
purpose of eliminating fetuses which are affected by malformations or which
are carriers of hereditary illness, is to be condemned as a violation of
the unborn child's right to life and as an abuse of the prior rights and
duties of the spouses.
seen that, because of unscrupulous persons and a dubious if not morally corrupt
justice system, lawsuits are filed against doctors for "wrongful birth" and
even "wrongful life." As Thomas Murphy Goodwin, M.D., writing in the March
1996 issue of First Things, observed: "...There is a tremendous imbalance
between the liability involved in not informing the mother of risks, compared
to the liability of suggesting the alternative of abortion. All pregnant
women, no matter what their personal convictions, are subject to the effects
of this imbalance...."
Dr. Goodwin's assertion is an unfortunate reality within the medical community.
Doctors who otherwise might be inclined to promote an alternative to abortion
fear that women will effectively blame them if the child is born with a "defect,"
particularly if the pregnancy itself is deemed high-risk and there is an
adverse prenatal diagnosis. The probable result, then, is a lawsuit. (Of
course, true pro-lifers realize that each and every child is a gift from
God, deserving to be welcomed in life and protected by law. Hence, they would
not act in such a manner.)
Thankfully, there are pro-life resources for parents who receive an adverse prenatal diagnosis. One such resource is www.benotafraid.net.
Benotafraid.net “is an online outreach to parents who have received a poor
or difficult prenatal diagnosis. The family stories, articles, and links
within this site are presented as a resource for those who may have been
asked to choose between terminating a pregnancy or continuing on despite
the diagnosis. The benotafraid.net families faced the same decision and chose
not to terminate. By sharing our experiences, we hope to offer encouragement
to those who may be afraid to continue on.”
prenatal diagnosis, like so many other technological advances, can be used
for good or evil purposes. Sadly, in our present culture, it is largely a
tool for the latter. But it needn't be. Perhaps one day, with enough prayer,
love and sacrifice, such medical technology will be used only to glorify
C. Abbott is the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life
Committee and the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based
Pro-Life Action League.
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