Ethical Aspects of Prenatal Diagnosis of Fetal Malformations

Hossam E Fadel


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Fetal malformations complicate approximately 3% of all pregnancies. Many of these are minor or can be corrected after birth. But there are certain malformations that are lethal, and others that are severe and others, that, even if corrected, lead to permanent disability. Advances in prenatal diagnosis made possible the diagnosis of many fetal malformations. This led to the concept of the fetus a patient independent of the pregnant woman even though the moral status of the fetus is in dispute. Many of the lethal malformations are untreatable. However, for some, innovative in utero treatments both medical and surgical became possible. These interventions should be evaluated for the relative benefit / risk for both the fetus and the mother because any such treatment has to involve the integrity of her body. This raises the ethical question of beneficence (to the fetus) versus the autonomy of the pregnant woman. The process of resolving this issue will be discussed especially how to obtain a truly informed consent.

For the lethal malformations or for those severe or multiple malformations whose treatment is theoretically possible but the results of such treatment are unpredictable or may lead to life long disabilities and serious burdens for the infant or child and the family, prenatal counseling should include “prenatal advance directive” and a plan for palliative care, the components of which will be described.


Fetal malformations; Prenatal diagnosis; Prenatal counseling; Fetal therapy; Fetal surgery; Medical ethics; Palliative care

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