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Genetic testing made headlines last week when Angelina Jolie announced her double mastectomies. Knowing she carried a gene that dramatically increased her odds for developing cancer, she chose to remove both breasts preventatively. Would she definitely have gotten cancer if she hadn’t had surgery? No. Does her surgery guarantee she won’t get it? No. What does this have to do with pregnancy? Plenty. Genetic testing is a routine part of prenatal care.
I’ve recently read a couple books I think do a great job presenting the positives and negatives of genetic testing. Emily Rapp’s memoir, The Still Point of The Turning World, is a heartbreaking read about her son’s life and death with Tay Sach’s disease (a rare, fatal genetic disorder). Emily loved her son and treasured the few years he was alive but she’s completely honest when she says if she knew during pregnancy that Ronan had this disorder, she’d have had an abortion. His condition was painful, debilitating and she would have spared her son if she’d known. She’s become an expert on the parental side of gene testing and a strong advocate for the plus side of having it done.
I also recently read Lissa Rankin’s newly released New York Times Bestseller, Mind Over Medicine. Lissa is an OB-GYN who took the off ramp from a stressful, frustrating career delivering babies in our current high-intervention, defensive American birth culture. She left because she became ill and unhappy, knew the stress was killing her and because she couldn’t continue practicing in a climate so oppressive for both doctors and patients.
Once she got her health back together, she started researching how our thoughts and lifestyles influence our health both for better and worse. She did deep research on thousands of studies that demonstrate that placebos promote healing because patients “think” their way to health and believe they’re taking something that will cure them.
Lissa believes that while genetic testing has a valid medical role for many people, it isn’t necessarily the final word in determining who gets sick and who doesn’t. She references Dr. Bruce Lipton, PhD, a stem cell biologist and internationally known expert on the molecular mechanisms controlling cell behavior. He’s kind of a big deal in the genetics world. After a solid career believing that genes were responsible for what ails us, he made a big discovery.