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Genetic Preview

The ability to peer into the DNA of a fetus is offering parents increased amounts of genetic information while also raising ethical questions, writes Dina Fine Maron at Scientific American. Non-invasive prenatal sequencing may be able to tell parents about not only whether their child has a condition like Down syndrome, but also the child's risk of developing other diseases, including ones that may not manifest until adulthood.

"The technology is all there to do this," Lisa Soleymani Lehmann, the director of the Center for Bioethics at Brigham and Women's Hospital, tells Maron. "Part of the issue is cost and part of the issue is the ethical controversy, which is limiting the uptake of this — not knowing how to deal with the uncertainty of this information or how to interpret this massive amount of data."

While Maron notes that parents may benefit from knowing that their kid is at higher risk of developing a condition like type 2 diabetes — she notes that they could emphasize exercise and a healthy diet — the unborn child cannot consent and may not want to know this information when he or she is older.

"But many parents would forgo whole genome sequencing, Lehmann and her colleagues argue, adding that such concerns should not justify withholding information about genetic markers for future illness," Maron adds.