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Prenatal Genetic Testing

Updated on February 15, 2017

Understanding Potential

Genetic testing is gaining popularity in prenatal care as parents wish to know of any potential health conditions their child might face. The use of genetic testing has become a controversial topic as it is seen as a way for parents to make a choice to terminate a pregnancy if their child is at risk for a serious condition. This has brought up a number of ethical concerns with groups expressing the sentiment that, while a woman has the right to choose, making that choice based on the potential for a genetic condition is insulting to the disabled community.

Public Opinion

Kelly and Ferrimond (2012) explain that people, when polled, are initially in favor of genetic testing but often add caveats regarding the moral implications of raising the willingness of people to choose to have an abortion as a result of positive test results for genetic diseases. The article describes people’s concern that those living with genetic illnesses may feel invalidated by the notion that people would choose to terminate a pregnancy based on such an illness being present in the fetus. One respondent to the poll went so far as to describe a future in which an attitude of “why weren’t you aborted” develops regarding disabled people.

The Decision Making Process

There are several factors that affect how genetic tests will influence the decision making process. Genetic testing is not often covered by insurance and can be expensive. Therefore, economic considerations greatly play a role in whether or not a couple will even make a decision based on genetic results as many poor or middle class couples may not be able to afford the procedure. Additionally, psychosocial variables are at play. Patients may have ethical issues with the idea of genetic testing and may hold a less deterministic worldview that causes them not to place value on such tests.

According to O’Malley (2013), nurses have a right to request not to be assigned to work with a patient, if the patient’s care infringes on the nurse’s religious or moral values. If the patient is in need of assistance, however, and no other nurses are available, the nurse must not refuse care. Furthermore, the nurse should limit the avoidance of working with the patient to only the specific matters in conflict with the nurse’s morals. For example, a nurse can request not be be a part of a team performing an abortion, however, if the patient needs an assessment done, assistance in walking or using the bathroom, or any other care not directly related to the abortion, the nurse should be able to provide this for the patient. These rules are general and cover all moral or ethical discrepancies a nurse might have regarding pregnancy termination, including on the grounds of genetic testing.


Kelly, S., & Farrimond, H. (2012). Non-Invasive Prenatal Genetic Testing: A Study of Public Attitudes. Public Health Genomics, 15(2), 73-81.

O’Malley, C. M. (2013). Legal and Ethical Issues Concerning Pro-Life Choices. The Journal of Undergraduate Nursing Writing, 6(1), 45-51.


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