Prenatal diagnosis represents incredible and continuing advances in technology, yet a sleight of hand—a trick, perhaps—is being played on pregnant women. We are told that prenatal diagnosis will increase our choices, but, as these tests become more available, women are feeling that they have less choice to refuse the testing. We already are, through social attitudes, individually responsible for our children's development, and now we also are becoming responsible for producing a healthy baby at birth.
As one woman comments, "I knew it was my responsibility to make sure I was not going to give birth to a handicapped child. But that meant taking the risk of losing a healthy baby. I am responsible for that too."
Finally, as we look more deeply, the parallels between prenatal diagnosis and medicalised childbirth become increasingly obvious. Both industries are centred on high technology and its superior knowledge, and both consider women's own feelings and instincts about their bodies and their babies to be of lesser importance.
Women who choose either path are at risk of a cascade of intervention—from induction to caesarean or from screening to abortion—with pressure to conform to medicalised ideas of "the right decision" at each point. As one woman notes, "…once you've got onto the testing trap you have to get to the end."
Where does this end take us, as individuals and as a society? Does prenatal diagnosis represent liberation or the beginning of a slippery slope towards selecting babies on the basis of socially acceptable characteristics? How will the "new genetics" impact prenatal diagnosis, with the huge amount of information that will soon become available about our unborn babies? And does it…make every woman feel that her pregnancy is "tentative" until she receives reassuring news?
The answers to these and other questions are as yet unknown, but this technology is certain to become more sophisticated in the coming years and our choices more complex. Mother Nature, like many women who are enrolling in these tests, does not know whether to laugh or cry.
— Sarah J. Buckley - "Prenatal Diagnosis," Midwifery Today, Issue 77