Autism breakthrough unleashes ethical debate

New research paves the way for prenatal testing for autism

A research breakthrough by Cambridge University paves the way for prenatal testing for autism—and debate on the ethics of doing so, reports The Guardian. The discovery that high levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women was linked to autistic traits, such as a lack of sociability and verbal skills, in their children raises the possibility that amniocentesis (used to test for Down’s syndrome) would also be able to detect autism. Testing for autism is a  contentious topic in that it’s now regarded a “spectrum disorder” that “includes mathematical and musical savants as well as children who are unable to communicate and spend their lives in an institution.” Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Cambridge research team, says it’s time that society weighed the pros and cons of testing: “What would we lose if children with autistic spectrum disorder were eliminated from the population?” he asks, noting that autism is a “different kind of condition” than Down’s syndrome in that it’s “often linked with talent.” Parents of children with autistic spectrum disorders are expected to lead the opposition to testing linked to termination in part for “fear it would lead to greater discrimination and less support for them.” Yet the National Autism Society sees early identification of autism as a potential benefit in allowing parents to prepare. “There are benefits, but there are concerns,” says spokeswoman Amanda Batten. “People think it is about eugenics.”

The Guardian

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