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BMJ. 2007 April 7; 334(7596): 712.
PMCID: PMC1847858

German doctors protest about firm offering fetal sex tests in early pregnancy

Clinical geneticists and gynaecologists in Germany have expressed concerns that a private firm is offering women in the early stages of pregnancy a blood test to determine the sex of their unborn baby. The test is offered from the eighth week of pregnancy, and doctors fear that women who are not happy about the sex of their child may ask for an abortion, which is legal in Germany up to the 12th week of pregnancy and quite easily obtained.

The firm, Plasmagen, offers the test over the internet. It tells women to ask their doctor to take a 2 ml blood sample and send it to the company's laboratory in Cologne. Test results are available within eight days after the arrival of the sample and are sent back to the woman's doctor. The test costs €149 (£101; $198); money is refunded if the result proves to be wrong.

Although the firm says that the patient's doctor should not reveal the test's result until the 12th week of pregnancy, some doctors believe that patients may be able to access the results earlier—if, for example, they are dishonest about the date of conception.

The German Society for Human Genetics has issued a public statement condemning commercially driven offers of prenatal genetic testing in cases where there is no medical reason for one.

Plasmagen's test works by searching the mother's blood for fetal DNA and then looking for Y chromosome material. The firm claims on its website that the test is 99% accurate.

Professor Walter Jonat, president of the German Gynaecological Society, said that he was sceptical about the firm's claim that women would never find out the result of a test until after the 12th week of pregnancy. He argues that if prospective parents try hard they will be able to obtain access to the result by some means.

Professor Peter Propping, president of the German Society for Human Genetics, questions the relevance of the sex test. He particularly criticises Plasmagen for saying that the test is useful for cases where the baby may be carrying sex linked disease. This could lead to a number of unnecessary abortions, he says. If a fetus is aborted solely on the basis of its sex, male fetuses that do not carry the gene for the relevant disease will be aborted.

Daniel Inderbiethen, marketing director of Plasmagen, denies that unnecessary abortions will occur when x-linked genetic diseases are suspected. In fact, he says, the availability of the test will result in fewer unnecessary amniocenteses because amniocentesis will not be necessary if the child is known to be a girl.

He says that early knowledge of the child's sex is an important issue for many parents. So far about 200 mothers have ordered a blood test.

Plasmagen is currently applying for a patent for the genetic sex test. It will not export the test to countries like India or China, where sex preference is a contentious issue, says Daniel Inderbiethen, but he does not exclude its introduction in other countries with similar cultures and health systems.

Similar home testing systems are available in some other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Mr Inderbiethen claims such tests are not as accurate as his company's.

Notes

The statement from the German Society for Human Genetics can be found at www.gfhev.de. More details about Plasmagen are at www.plasmagen.de.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group