Imperfect Pregnancies: A History of Birth Defects and Prenatal Diagnosis

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JHU Press, Dec 1, 2017 - Medical - 296 pages
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How has prenatal testing, once offered only for high-risk pregnancies, become standard medical care for pregnant women today?

In the 1960s, thanks to the development of prenatal diagnosis, medicine found a new object of study: the living fetus. At first, prenatal testing was proposed only to women at a high risk of giving birth to an impaired child. But in the following decades, such testing has become routine.

In Imperfect Pregnancies, Ilana Lwy argues that the generalization of prenatal diagnosis has radically changed the experience of pregnancy for tens of millions of women worldwide. Although most women are reassured that their future child is developing well, others face a stressful period of waiting for results, uncertain prognosis, and difficult decisions. Lwy follows the rise of biomedical technologies that made prenatal diagnosis possible and investigates the institutional, sociocultural, economic, legal, and political consequences of their widespread diffusion.

Because prenatal diagnosis is linked to the contentious issue of selective termination of pregnancy for a fetal anomaly, debates on this topic have largely centered on the rejection of human imperfection and the notion that we are now perched on a slippery slope that will lead to new eugenics. Imperfect Pregnancies tells a more complicated story, emphasizing that there is no single standardized way to scrutinize the fetus, but there are a great number of historically conditioned and situated approaches. This book will interest students, scholars, health professionals, administrators, and activists interested in issues surrounding new medical technologies, screening, risk management, pregnancy, disability, and the history and social politics of women’s bodies.


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Introduction Scrutinized Fetuses
Birth Defects before Prenatal Diagnosis
2 Karyotypes
3 Human Malformations
4 From Prenatal Diagnosis to Prenatal Screening
5 Sex Chromosome Aneuploidies
6 Prenatal Diagnosis and New Genomic Approaches
Conclusion Prenatal Diagnosis Slippery Slopes Imagined and Real

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About the author (2017)

Ilana Lwy is emerita senior research fellow at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. She is the author of Preventive Strikes: Women, Precancer, and Prophylactic Surgery and A Woman’s Disease: The History of Cervical Cancer.

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