The Routinization of Prenatal Testing

80 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2002

See all articles by Sonia M. Suter

Sonia M. Suter

The George Washington University Law School


As testing for late-onset genetic conditions becomes increasingly available, concerns have been raised about the psychosocial costs of obtaining such genetic information. Anxiety and distress can result from testing that offers only probabilistic results as to whether and when the condition will develop, especially when treatment is limited or unavailable. Many have therefore urged caution regarding late-onset testing, suggesting that knowledge can sometimes be toxic. This article argues that the same circumspection does not exist with respect to prenatal testing, which has become de rigeur as a result of a complex mix of norms within the medical community, society, and the legal profession. Unfortunately, for many patients, this routinization of prenatal testing has made true choice illusive and impoverished the informed consent process. Patients often fail to consider the possibility of not undergoing testing and many are unaware of the emotional implications of such testing and are unprepared for the difficult choices they may face. The article concludes with some comments about the broader social implications of this routinization, suggesting that the diminished informed consent process has contributed to an inability to discuss the moral dimensions of reproductive technology today and in the future.

Suggested Citation

Suter, Sonia M., The Routinization of Prenatal Testing. American Journal of Law and Medicine, Vol. 28, Nos. 2 & 3, pp. 233-270, 2002 , GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 54, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 54, Available at SSRN: or

Sonia M. Suter (Contact Author)

The George Washington University Law School ( email )

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