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Journal articles

How genetics came to the unborn: 1960–2000

Abstract : Prenatal diagnosis (PND) is frequently identified with genetic testing. The termination of pregnancy for foetal malformation was called ‘genetic abortion’, in spite of the fact that in many cases the malformation does not result from changes in the genetic material of the cell. This study argues that the ‘geneticization’ of PND reflected the transformation of the meaning of the term ‘genetics’ in the 1960s and 70s. Such transformation was linked with the definition of Down syndrome as a genetic condition, and to the key role of search for this condition in the transformation of PND into a routine approach. The identification of PND with the polysemic term ‘genetics’ was also favoured by hopes that cytogenetic studies will lead to cures or prevention of common birth defects, the association of genetic counsellors with prenatal diagnosis, and the raising prestige of clinical genetics. In spite of the impressive achievements of the latter specialty, more than fifty years after the first prenatal diagnoses, the main ‘cure’ of a severe foetal malformation remains the same as it was in the 1960s: the termination of a pregnancy. The identification of PND with genetics deflects attention from the gap between scientists' capacity to elucidate the causes of numerous birth defects and their ability (as for now) to prevent or treat these defects, and favours the maintenance of a powerful regimen of hope.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, December 14, 2021 - 10:32:08 AM
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Ilana Löwy. How genetics came to the unborn: 1960–2000. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Elsevier, 2014, 47A, pp.154-162. ⟨10.1016/j.shpsc.2014.05.015⟩. ⟨hal-03478869⟩



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