Why Prenatal Testing for Autism Is Problematic: Special Needs Living

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pregnant belly womanPrenatal testing that diagnoses autism? That's right. Recent British scientific research makes this kind of testing sound like a future possibility for pregnant women.

However, what is the ethical dilemma behind such testing, especially since autism runs such a wide spectrum?

This week in Special Needs Living, aurorabunny, mom to 3-year old Brody, who has autism, expresses her worries about such prenatal testing, should it become available.

Amnio Testing for Autism a Possibility

by aurorabunny

A friend posted a news story on Facebook that caught my eye this week regarding new information that might make prenatal testing for autism a possibility. While the thought of a test that could prenatally detect autism interests me, I can't say that it doesn't horrify me at the same time. I've always been extremely morally opposed to terminating a pregnancy due to a child's possible disability, but terminating a pregnancy due to a condition that might not even BE a disability raises some entirely new ethical issues.

While many disabilities are fairly black and white, autism is a very broad spectrum. Autism may cause severe life-long debilitation for one individual and perhaps just minor social difficulties for another. The prenatal testing described in the article would have no way to tell which end of the spectrum a person might be at, and therefore I just can't see how anyone could make a potentially life-altering decision based on that type of a test — unless, of course, there were parents lining up to ensure that their children had not an ounce of anything that might even possibly be described as a disability or handicap, which is an entirely different and scary scenario in my opinion. 

When I read about new tests like this, it makes me wonder how long it might be until we are testing for even the most minor of issues that might cause a person to be perceived as being "less productive" in our society. What about testing for things like depression, anxiety, or even obesity? ("Mrs. Smith, we've isolated a gene that shows your child has a 75% chance of becoming really fat at some point in their life, do you still wish to move forward this pregnancy?") That might sound like quite a stretch, but to me the possibility of prenatal autism testing represents a large and scary step towards ensuring only a "perfect" society. 

Some argue that testing like this would be used more as helpful tool that would help parents prepare earlier for a child with autism. I've heard the same thing said about the amnio testing for Down Syndrome, yet statistics show that over 90% of pregnancies where parents are informed of a confirmed Down Syndrome diagnosis end in abortion. That makes the "helpful tool" scenario more than a little bit laughable in my opinion. It really makes me wonder what people like Sir Isaac Newton, Mozart, Charles Darwin, or even Bill Gates (all rumored to be somewhere on the autism spectrum) would think about such a test? 

What do you think about prenatal testing for autism? If you are or plan to become pregnant, would you utilize this testing should it become available? Why or why not?

 

Previous Special Needs Living posts from aurorabunny:

Marriage & Divorce: Special Needs Living

Alternative Treatments for Autism: Special Needs Living

Learning to Communicate: Special Needs Living

Thinking About TTC a Second Child: Special Needs Living

autism, developmental delays