Fetal Therapy: Practical Ethical Considerations
Prenatal diagnosis 2011 Jul; 31(7): 621-7
Progress in prenatal diagnosis can lead to the diagnosis of severe fetal abnormalities for which natural history anticipates a fatal outcome or the development of severe disability despite optimal postnatal care. Intrauterine therapy can be offered in these selected cases. Prenatal diagnosis is the only field of medicine in which termination is an option in the management of severe diseases. Fetal therapy has therefore developed as an alternative to fatalist expectant prenatal management as well as to termination of pregnancy (TOP). There are few standards of fetal care that have gone beyond the stage of equipoise and even fewer have been established based on appropriate studies comparing pre- and postnatal care. Several ethical questions are being raised as fetal surgery develops, including basic Hippocratic principles of patients' autonomy and doctors' duty of competence moving the boundaries between experimental surgery, therapeutic innovation and standard care. In addition, the technical success of a fetal intervention can only rarely fully predict the postnatal outcome. Managing uncertainty regarding long-term morbidity and the possibility for fetal therapy to change the risk of perinatal death into that of severe handicap remains a critical factor affecting women's choice for TOP as an alternative to fetal therapy.
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