Reuters reports on a new survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which reinforces the accuracy of a certain blood test for determining the sex of a fetus as early as seven weeks along in pregnancy. We like how the Reuters story clearly discusses the numbers from the JAMA study, and points out that – while accurate – this kind of blood test could still lead to false information for some parents.
But we find the New York Times story gives more consumer information for US audiences, explaining that “the tests have been available to consumers in drugstores and online for a few years.”
Earlier sex-determination in pregnancy could lead to parents choosing (or trying to choose) the gender they prefer. Internationally, it is already clear that some parents in China and India are deliberately choosing male babies, and aborting female fetuses.
The research reported in these two stories, a survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association, does not directly address these larger ethical implications. But the study’s lead author, Diana Bianchi, does stress that she wants to examine “why people are buying these things” and the consequences of consumer access to over-the-counter testing for fetal gender.
The story mentions the estimated cost of test, but does not note that consumers can get the test without a doctor’s involvement in the US.
Reuters examines how parents may benefit from earlier results in pregnancy if their unborn child is at risk of a serious genetic defect that is sex-linked. However, the story also points out that there is some chance of mistakes with the early testing.
We’re just surprised that neither Reuters nor the NY Times pointed out in absolute terms that 5 out of every 100 tests of girls and 1 of every 100 boys will be wrong – 6 out of a hundred multiplied by millions of pregnancies a year is a lot of errors even if uptake is small.
It’s also worth noting that most research achieves better performance results than when the tests are used in the real world.
We give this a barely passing grade, because the story does quote one ethicist raising doubts about how parents may use the test. She points out: “Remember, gender is not a disease.” Reuters does not use the word “abortion.” Seems to be a bit light on the harms side of the social equation.
The story explains that the JAMA study surveyed 57 other studies, including abouty 6,500 pregnancies in all.
Reuters clearly discusses the alternatives for determining fetal sex, including chorionic villi and amniotic fluid sampling, and ultrasound. They don’t exaggerate the benefits or problems with gender testing.
The story uses independent sources, and notes that the lead author of the JAMA study, Diana Bianchi, is an investor in a related cell-free fetal DNA test for Down syndrome.
This story explains the existing alternatives – ultrasound and more invasive sampling methods. But it doesn’t do as good a job as the competing NY Times story in describing other types of tests (urine tests) that have been developed.
The test to determine fetal gender is available in the United States, as an unregulated procedure outside a doctor’s purview. The Reuters story does not mention this. The competing NY Times story was explicit on this.
The test is not novel. The story explained this was a “fresh look at the medical evidence for the blood test.”
The story does not rely solely on a news release.