Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Reconsidering prenatal screening: an empirical–ethical approach to understand moral dilemmas as a question of personal preferences
  1. E García1,2,
  2. D R M Timmermans1,
  3. E van Leeuwen2
  1. 1
    EMGO Institute, Free University Medical Center (VUMC), The Netherlands
  2. 2
    Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, University Medical Center, St Radboud, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  1. Dr E García, Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, University Medical Center St Radboud, Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9191, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands; e.garciagonzalez{at}


In contrast to most Western countries, routine offer of prenatal screening is considered problematic in the Netherlands. The main argument against offering it to every pregnant woman is that women would be brought into a moral dilemma when deciding whether to use screening or not. This paper explores whether the active offer of a prenatal screening test indeed confronts women with a moral dilemma. A qualitative study was developed, based on a randomised controlled trial that aimed to assess the decision-making process of women when confronted with a test offer. A sample of 59 women was interviewed about the different factors balanced in decision-making. Participants felt themselves caught between a need for knowledge and their unwillingness to take on responsibility. Conflict was reported between wishes, preferences and ethical views regarding parenthood; however, women did not seem to be caught in a choice between two or more ethical principles. Participants balanced the interests of the family against that of the fetus in line with their values and their personal circumstances. Therefore, we conclude that they are not so much faced with an ethical dilemma as conflicting interests. We propose that caregivers should provide the opportunity for the woman to discuss her wishes and doubts to facilitate her decision. This approach would help women to assess the meaning of testing within their parental duties towards their unborn child and their current offspring.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Provenance and Peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Other content recommended for you