Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 461–471 | Cite as

Antenatal Genetic Testing and the Right to Remain in Ignorance

  • Rebecca Bennett


As knowledge increases about the human genome,prenatal genetic testing will become cheaper,safer and more comprehensive. It is likelythat there will be a great deal of support formaking prenatal testing for a wide range ofgenetic disorders a routine part of antenatalcare. Such routine testing is necessarilycoercive in nature and does not involve thesame standard of consent as is required inother health care settings. This paper askswhether this level of coercion is ethicallyjustifiable in this case, or whether pregnantwomen have a right to remain in ignorance ofthe genetic make-up of the fetus they arecarrying. While information gained by genetictesting may be useful for pregnant women whenmaking decisions about their pregnancy, it doesnot prevent harm to future children. It isargued that as this kind of testing providesinformation in the interests of the pregnantwomen and not in the interests of any futurechild, the same standards of consent that arenormally required for genetic testing should berequired in this instance.

autonomy consent coercion harm prenatal genetic testing 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Gibson GJ. Seaton A. GMC's advice in Serious CommunicableDiseases. British Medical Journal 2000; 320: 1727.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Nuffield Councilon Bioethics. Genetic Screening - Ethical Issues. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1993.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Takala T. The right to genetic ignorance confirmed.Bioethics 1999; 13: 288–293.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rhodes R. Genetic links, family tiesand social bonds: rights and responsibilities in the face of genetic knowledge. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 1998; 23: 10–30.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Takala T. Häyry M.Genetic ignorance, moral obligations and social duties. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 2000; 25: 107–113.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Takala T. Gylling HA. Who shouldknow about our genetic make-up and why? Journal of Medical Ethics 2000; 26: 171–174.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Connor EM et al. The Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trials Group.Reduction of maternalinfant transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 with AZT treatment. New England Journal of Medicine 1994; 311: 1173–1180.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    NHS Executive. Reducing mother to baby transmission of HIV. Health ServiceCircular HSC 1999/183. London: NHS Executive, 13 August 1999.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Rovner J. US specialists object to AMA's call for mandatory testing. The Lancet1996; 348(9023): 330.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Clarke A. Genetic Counselling.Encyclopaedia of Applied Ethics, Volume 2. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mofenson LM. Technical report: perinatal human immunodeficiencyvirus testing and prevention of transmission. Commission on Pediatric Aids (Review). Pediatrics 2000; 106(6): E88.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Centres for Disease Control. AZTfor the prevention of HIV transmission from mother to infant. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 1994; 43: 285–287.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    European Collaborative Study.Risk factors for mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1. Lancet 1992; 339: 1007–1012.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Newell ML. Peckham CS. Risk factors for vertical transmissionand early markers of HIV-1 infection in children. AIDS 1993; 7: S591–597.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Häyry M. Is it undesirable that children are born infected with HIV? In:Häyry M, ed. Playing God: Essays on Bioethics. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2001: 32–43.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Harris J. Is there a coherent social conception ofdisability? Journal of Medical Ethics 2000; 26: 95–100.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Harris J.Clones, Genes and Immortality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca Bennett
    • 1
  1. 1.School of LawThe University of Manchester, Williamson BuildingManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations