A single, non-evasive test involving a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father could mean unborn babies can be screened for thousands of potential genetic defects, reports The Telegraph.
Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle have found that by taking DNA samples from a mother and a father, they can reconstruct the entire genetic code of an unborn baby.
This means they could then scan for more than 3,000 potential gene disorders that could indicate the risk of conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.
At the moment, the NHS only routinely tests for Down’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and spina bifada via amniocentesis, a technique that involves inserting a probe into the womb to extract amniotic fluid. Amniocentesis carries certain risks for the mother and the foetus.
According to The Telegraph, the scientists report the new test could also provide details of the baby’s future health.
They warned, however, that increased testing raised important moral questions.
“The less tangible implication of incorporating this level of information into pre-natal decision making raises many ethical questions that must be considered carefully within the scientific community and on a societal level,” the scientists said.
Pro-life campaigners say increased testing could lead to more abortions.
Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the Pro-Life Alliance, said in The Telegraph, “One always hopes, vainly, that in utero testing will be for the benefit of the unborn child. Whilst this new test may not itself be invasive, given our past track record, it is difficult to imagine that this new test will not lead to more abortions.”