prenata1l - Literature and Medicine The Complications of...

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Literature and Medicine The Complications of Prenatal Screening During the past two decades, prenatal screening for fetal defects has become a standard part of nearly every pregnant woman’s medical care. Tests conducted during the first half of pregnancy are designed to detect a wide range of genetic and other disorders, and to give women the option of obtaining abortions if defects are diagnosed. Some people have heralded this development as a breakthrough in the age-old war against disease. Others regard it as more than that: a tool to improve society. Modern birth control methods, the argument goes, brought us quantity control; the addition of prenatal testing offers a system of quality control. For the first time in history, parents are able to customize, albeit in limited ways, the kinds of children they bring into the world. Prenatal diagnosis may be a routine procedure, but it raises a number of troubling issues. While the women who avail themselves of the tests are usually worried about their children’s health, the political, legal, and medical communities have their own reasons for encouraging large-scale screening for fetal defects. Unbeknownst to most prospective parents, scientists are still debating the safety of the most widely offered screening tests, and the ethical issues raised by prenatal screening are even touchier. In my paper I would like to portray how prenatal testing is eradicating illness and altering the patter of disease in this country in a whole new way-preemptively and in doing so it is changing society’s fundamental attitudes toward parenting in a very bad way, especially in regards to how they view sickness and their social responsibility. It is even influencing women’s notions of childbirth, medicine, and motherhood.
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The most common form of prenatal testing is ultrasound imaging, which uses sound waves to produce a picture-or "sonogram"-of the fetus. Today, more than 80 percent of all pregnant women in the United States receive a sonogram during their pregnancy. Women deemed at "high risk" for giving birth to a child with chromosomal abnormalities are also offered amniocentesis, a procedure in which a needle, guided by ultrasound, is inserted into the uterus and withdraws a small amount of amniotic fluid for cell analysis (Parons 77). These experimental forms of genetic screening are clearly controversial, but even the most common forms of prenatal testing are open to dispute. Despite the matter-of-fact manner in which physicians offer the tests to their patients, their safety has never been scientifically established. Ultrasound, for example, which doctors present as a thoroughly uncontroversial procedure, is still being contested within the medical literature. A classic example of a "creeping technology," ultrasound in pregnancy has never been subjected to a large-scale randomized controlled trial to assess either its safety or usefulness. Ann Oakley, a historian of maternal medicine, has compared the growing use of ultrasound with that of X-rays, which became popular after the turn
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prenata1l - Literature and Medicine The Complications of...

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