When Knowledge Isn’t Power
For many other women, a major downside of prenatal tests is the emotional toll. Though some advances have been made in correcting spina bifida in utero, there is no cure for Down syndrome (or any other chromosomal defect, for that matter).
Therefore, prenatal testing has only two benefits: It may allow parents to choose not to have an affected baby; or, conversely, if they do decide to continue such a pregnancy, to prepare, emotionally and otherwise, for a child with special needs.
But having to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy can, for some, feel too much like playing God. “In this case, knowledge isn’t power, because there’s not much you can do,” says Aliza Kolker, co-author of Prenatal Testing: A Sociological Perspective (Bergin & Garvey, 1998). That’s why many women who turn down testing do so because of religious or personal beliefs; they say the results won’t change the course of their pregnancies anyway.
While Canick strongly supports prenatal testing, he emphasizes that it is an option, not a requirement. “Doctors should offer these tests, not just give them, because the results may involve difficult choices down the line,” he says. Until more accurate tests are available, the best you can do is ask your doctor or midwife to explain the accuracy, risks and benefits of every test she recommends and then make an informed decision.