“A Doctor Looks at Amniocentesis,” Ensign, Apr. 1985, 72
Until recently, prenatal care involved primarily the care of the mother; the realm of the fetus remained largely a mystery. However, recent advances in our understanding of normal and abnormal fetal development and technological advances have helped us learn more about and give more care to the unborn child.
For example, in skilled hands prenatal ultrasound may allow a remarkably detailed physical examination of the fetus. Amniotic fluid analysis may, in certain circumstances, help assess the condition of the fetus in much the same way that an examination of mother’s blood can contribute to her care. In later pregnancy, the fetus’s reaction to various stimuli may provide insight into its ability to tolerate the stress of labor.
Unfortunately, such scientific and technological advancements have been paralleled by an increasingly common disregard for the sanctity of unborn human life. In all too many instances, detection of any physical imperfection in an unborn child leads to abortion. Such widespread practices need not lead LDS couples to refuse prenatal diagnostic procedures, however. The information gained from such tests could benefit both the parents and the child.
Certainly not all pregnant women need such specialized testing. However, a doctor who suspects that a couple has an increased risk of having a handicapped child may recommend diagnostic ultrasound and amniocentesis. Couples may benefit in several ways from this diagnostic procedure.
First, in the vast majority of cases, the woman is reassured that her child is normal. This removes a tremendous burden from her and her family during the remaining months of pregnancy. Unfortunately, some women will be found to be carrying a child with major or minor handicaps. In a few of these cases, medical, or in rare cases, surgical, therapy may be given while the child is still in the womb.
Other conditions may be diagnosed which require specialized treatment immediately after delivery if the infant is to survive. If such information is available before birth, arrangements can be made for delivery in a facility where such care will be immediately available.
Most abnormal fetuses, however, are found to have conditions which cannot be treated. Parents of such children usually prefer to receive this information early in pregnancy in the quiet, supportive atmosphere of the doctor’s office, rather than unexpectedly in the middle of the night, after nine months of hopeful expectation and several hours of exhausting labor. Such information, if obtained early, may allow parents to better prepare themselves for the physical and financial challenges which await them in caring for a handicapped child. Further, as one couple recently confided, “Finding out early in pregnancy about our baby’s condition gave us time to reconcile within ourselves and with the Lord all the questions of ‘why?’ It motivated us to get closer to God and prepare ourselves spiritually for the challenges to come.” Dr. Steven L. Clark, Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, University of Southern California