The story is a brief overview of preimplantation genetic screening, in which couples who are using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to become pregnant have embryos tested for genetic disorders before proceeding with implantation.
The story does not address cost or risks in any way. But what is most puzzling is why this story was written now. There does not appear to be a news hook, and preimplantation genetic screening has been around for decades. It’s also not made clear enough that this information applies to couples undergoing IVF only.
Having a child is a personal decision, and couples who have trouble conceiving have to deal with emotional challenges as well as medical ones. For families who are worried about the risk of genetic disorders, things can be even more complex. Add to this the significant financial burden involved with addressing fertility problems, and it is often an incredibly stressful and difficult ordeal. Couples grappling with these issues may look for materials online to help them understand their options. Stories that explain the costs and risks of medical techniques and procedures related to fertility and diagnosing genetic disorders can be incredibly valuable resources.
The story doesn’t address cost at all, which is a huge oversight in a story about preimplantation genetic screening. First of all, preimplantation genetic screening is only an option for people who are using IVF — which is expensive and often not covered by insurance. Second, the screenings themselves often cost thousands of dollars.
The story doesn’t quantify benefits. The story tells readers 1 out of 33 births has a genetic disorder. We want to know: Does the screening identify all of them? How accurate are the tests? How much do they “limit the chances of an embryo carrying a chromosomal disorder from being implanted?” Readers deserve to see numbers around these limits. It’s also far from clear this applies only to IVF. The story makes it sound like this applies to any pregnancy.
The story doesn’t address potential harms. A 2011 article in the journal Nursing for Women’s Health addresses the issue nicely: “The limitations of [preliminary genetic diagnosis] should be discussed with the couple, too. These include informing the couple about the possibility of misdiagnosis and also the possibility that genetic mutation-free embryos may not be identified.” Those are risks that can’t be overlooked.
There is no discussion of evidence. This is a technique that has been around for more than 20 years, and has been the subject of myriad journal articles. There is no shortage of information out there. But this story offers readers very little information about how the technique works, how accurate it is, or what research supports its use.
No disease mongering here.
There are two sources cited here, both of whom appear to offer these fertility services in clinics where they work. The story is upfront about that. And while this type of screening is fairly controversial, that is largely due to debates over the morality of terminating an embryo. And that debate is not the focus of the story, at least not directly.
The alternative to screening before implantation is not screening before implantation. That’s sufficiently clear that we’ll rate this Not Applicable.
The story makes clear that preimplantation genetic screening is available, but it doesn’t make clear that it is available only for pregnancies resulting from IVF.
Based on this story, readers could be forgiven for assuming that preimplantation genetic screening is a relatively recent development. But that’s not the case.
As noted in the paper in Nursing for Women’s Health: “Two decades have passed since preimplantation genetic diagnosis was successfully used to benefit high-genetic-risk couples with a known genetic disorder” (emphasis added). And that paper came out five years ago.
With comments from interviews with two sources, the story does appear to go beyond any news release. But the lack of any apparent news hook, and the fact that both quoted sources offer the services discussed in the story at their clinic, make us suspicious that impetus for this story is promotional rather than informational.