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Prenatal diagnosis: The irresistible rise of the ‘visible fetus’

Abstract : Prenatal diagnosis was developed in the 1970s, a result of a partly contingent coming together of three medical innovations—amniocentesis, the study of human chromosomes and obstetrical ultrasound—with a social innovation, the decriminalization of abortion. Initially this diagnostic approach was proposed only to women at high risk of fetal malformations. Later, however, the supervision of the fetus was extended to all pregnant women. The latter step was strongly favoured by professionals’ aspiration to prevent the birth of children with Down syndrome, an inborn condition perceived as a source of suffering for families and a burden on public purse. Experts who promoted screening for ‘Down risk’ assumed that the majority of women who carry a Down fetus will decide to terminate the pregnancy, and will provide a private solution to a public health problem. The generalization of screening for Down risk increased in turn the frequency of diagnoses of other, confirmed or potential fetal pathologies, and of dilemmas linked with such diagnoses. Debates on such dilemmas are usually limited to professionals. The transformation of prenatal diagnosis into a routine medical technology was, to a great extent, an invisible revolution.
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Ilana Löwy. Prenatal diagnosis: The irresistible rise of the ‘visible fetus’. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2014, 47B, pp.290-299. ⟨10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.12.003⟩. ⟨hal-03478891⟩



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