by Dr. Debra L. Grime
A new prenatal blood test called MaterniT21 can now evaluate the DNA of a baby before he or she is born and determine if the child has Down Syndrome with 99 percent accuracy. But now that the option is available, will more women opt for such tests? And more importantly, will this lead to more women having abortions?
The concept of testing for genetic differences while women are pregnant is not new. What makes this test attractive is that it minimizes the risks to baby and mother. Presently, if the mother’s history or other blood tests show an increased risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome, an amniocentesis is offered. This test places a needle into the sac around the baby and draws off a small amount of fluid. The baby’s cells are collected, and the DNA is analyzed. This has more risks than an ultrasound or blood test, but until Materni21, it was the most accurate test for Down Syndrome. It is still the gold standard for other genetic abnormalities.
Since genetic testing has been done, fewer babies with Down Syndrome have been born. In the past, doctors and parents didn’t know the health of the unborn child. Now, however, more couples have chosen to abort their children when they find out that the child has Down Syndrome. So, what happens next?
Morally, the blood test for prenatal diagnosis is no different than a blood test for cancer or thyroid disease. The test gives you information. It’s what you do with the information that tells what you think and believe. How true Jesus’ statement: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).
How does a Lutheran Christian deal with suboptimal news? There are many different ways to look at the same information. Suppose test results say that you have a terminal disease. Will you commit suicide? Do you try to treat the problem? Do you choose to do nothing, letting the disease kill you?
There is one key difference between prenatal testing and testing on adults, however. In prenatal testing, the baby has no input. I’ve had patients tell me that unless they have a “perfect” child they will not be happy and would abort any baby with any abnormality. They do not believe that they can handle caring for the child. They are afraid that the baby’s issues will interfere with their work, marriage and other family members. They refuse to believe the Bible when it tells us that life begins at conception. They do not see any moral issue with abortion.
What they don’t understand is that God wraps His gifts in different packages, hidden from those that don’t believe His Word. But by His grace, we are gathered to Christ and called to be faithful to the Word, not to what we think will make us happy.
Other patients tell me that they wouldn’t want to know if their child had any problem, even if the information would help me (an OB/GYN) with the delivery, because they fear that they would not be able to fight the temptation to have an abortion. They don’t want to have friends and family pressure them to make a choice that they know is wrong. It may be best for them not to have testing.
I’ve had still other patients who know that they would never have an abortion and desire to know for planning purposes. Different arrangements for delivery, the parents’ work schedules and educational opportunities ornetworking with other parents whose child has similar problems can all make the child’s birth and entry into the home easier. All this is to say, what you believe will influence your decision to have prenatal testing.
Will MaterniT21 cause an increase in abortion rates? No, but couples who think their child has Down Syndrome have an increased risk for abortion. The only way to change that, short of making abortion illegal again, is to change the hearts of people. Pray for the unhardening of America’s heart toward the unborn. Let God use you. Love and care for those who have disabilities. Teach your children that life begins at conception. Be pro-life with your words, deeds and dollars. By God’s grace, we will stand firm in advocating a culture of life, sharing the good news that Christ has “set [us] apart before [we were] born, and . . . called [us] by His grace” (Gal. 1:15).
About the Author: Dr. Debra L. Grime, MD, is an OB/GYN from Fort Wayne, Ind.