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Prenatal Tests

You are on an obs and gynae placement as a student nurse or doctor. You are training to be a midwife or an ultrasonographer. You are a GP Registrar. Or you have already qualified in one of these professions and are becoming uneasy. Maybe you have decided to exercise your right to a conscientious objection to participating in abortion and are finding your colleagues’ reaction tough enough.

But, what about antenatal screening or prenatal tests? You can recite the standard list of tests available and the gestational dates when they can be carried out. But, can you and should you be involved?

In 1987, Donum Vitae was produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as ‘Instruction on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation’. It dealt with a range of issues but on the subject of prenatal tests stated:

"If prenatal diagnosis respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human foetus and is directed towards its safeguarding or healing as an individual. Then the answer if affirmative". (Donum Vitae, para 1.2)

Therefore, if we are participating, it is to benefit a foetus affected by a condition which requires appropriate treatment within the uterus or planning for a delivery at a time and a place which allows for specific expertise to be offered the newborn baby.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life):

"When they do not involve disproportionate risks for the child and the mother, and are meant to make possible early therapy or even a serene and informed acceptance of the child not yet born, these techniques are morally licit" (para 63)

However, as healthcare professionals, we know our society and its pressures for diagnostic testing if initial non-invasive blood tests, or foetal ultrasounds suggest a raised statistical chance of disability. This is where our participation becomes a problem and we cannot close our eyes to the results of our co operation. It is not morally acceptable to participate in tests, the purpose of which is to discover foetal abnormalities in order to carry out eugenic induced abortions.

In the same paragraph in Evangelium Vitae, Pope John II did not mince his words as he went on to say:

"But, since the possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited, it not infrequently happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic intention which accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of children affected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful and utterly reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human life only within the parameters of ‘normaliy’ and physical well-being, thus opening the way to legitimising infanticide and euthanasia as well."