Monday, September 12, 2016

Misuse of blood tests for female feticide

The PCPNDT Act was passed in India in 1994 and amended in 2002 with good intentions. It was framed in order to prevent gender selection, control female feticide and balance the sex ratio. Since ultrasound scanning was being misused to determine fetal gender , the Govt of India started insisting that all ultrasound scanners be registered, and ultrasound scans were closely monitored.

However, medical technology has moved on , and it has become possible to determine the sex of the fetus by testing only the mother's blood. This means that ultrasound scans are no longer needed for sex selection !

This new blood test is called NIPT which can be done at 8  - 10 weeks of pregnancy. The lab separates the fetal  DNA ( cell-free DNA) from the maternal blood, and does a genetic analysis on this fetal DNA . NIPT ( non-invasive prenatal testing) technology  is readily available in India today . 
This test is reliable , accurate and simple.  It was first developed to screen the fetus for genetic diseases such as Down syndrome, but since it tests the DNA of the fetus, it can also be misused to determine the gender of  the fetus.

If the Govt is serious about controlling female feticide, then just monitoring ultrasound scanners is no longer enough in this day and age . The Govt should register all pathology labs as Genetic Laboratories under the PCPNDT Act. They should be made to fill in Form E of the Act every time a blood sample is drawn from a pregnant woman , so that these samples can be tracked.  We need strict monitoring to ensure that these blood samples are not being misused for gender determination illegally. Otherwise, we will end up wasting lot of time, money and energy in tracking the wrong technology, while female fetuses continue being aborted under our eyes.

Section 8 of Form E of the PCPNDT Act already has a heading for maternal blood. Why is this loophole not being plugged ?

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