Considering a Baby? Responsible Screening for the Future: Ethical and social implications for implementation and use of preconception expanded carrier screening in Sweden

  • Date:
  • Location: Sal IV, Universtetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Matar, Amal
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Centrum för forsknings- och bioetik
  • Contact person: Matar, Amal
  • Disputation

Disputation

Preconception expanded carrier screening is a novel technology that involves the offer of a screening test for many recessive diseases (via an expanded screening panel) to prospective parents, with no priori risk. Test positive couples have a number of reproductive choices; prenatal diagnosis and aborting affected fetus, IVF and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, sperm or ovum donation or simply accept the risk. The test had been piloted in studies and can potentially be implemented in Europe. Therefore, it seemed pertinent to evaluate stakeholders’ perspectives on ethical and social implications of implementing and using preconception ECS in Sweden.

Two main stakeholders were examined; healthcare professionals and health policymaking experts, via a mix of qualitative methods for data collection and data analysis. In Study I, we employed in-depth interviews to collect data and content analysis to analyze it. In Studies III and IV, expert interviews were used to gather data while thematic analysis was utilized to interpret it. Furthermore, in Study II, an ethical concept namely; reproductive autonomy, was critically discussed within a setting that expects a couple to make a conjoint reproductive decision about preconception ECS, while each partner still upholds his or her individual autonomy.

The main findings of the empirical studies (Studies I, III and IV) echo to a great extent the prevailing ethical and social debates associated with the novel technology. Respondents expressed concerns with reproductive autonomy, medicalization, prioritization of health resources, discrimination and long term societal changes. Furthermore, respondents emphasized the importance to observe Swedish values, such as human dignity, equality and solidarity, when assessing a preconception ECS program. In addition, they described practicalities of implementation and political considerations that are pertinent to the Swedish context. Finally, some respondents recognized the advantages of reduced suffering and decrease in fetal anomalies and abortion as a consequence of preconception ECS.

Study II, proposed a notion of couple autonomy, where certain demands if met, a couple’s reproductive decision can be accepted by healthcare staff as autonomous.

The findings, in this thesis, steer towards non implementation of preconception ECS in its current status within the publicly-funded healthcare system in Sweden. This is because healthcare providers and experts were of the opinion that it would not solve a medical need, threaten Swedish values and use up resources extensively.