National / Science & Health

Japan to ease restrictions on types of facilities conducting prenatal tests


The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has drafted a plan to ease restrictions on the types of medical facilities that can provide noninvasive prenatal testing to detect genetic abnormalities in unborn babies.

The draft plan, drawn up by the ethics committee of the society, is expected to be adopted at a board meeting in March.

The expansion of the availability of prenatal testing, which examines fetal DNA in the mother’s blood, has drawn criticism out of concern that it may lead to an increase in abortions. The testing began in Japan in 2013 as clinical research.

Under the current guidelines, facilities that can perform the tests are limited to those satisfying strict conditions, such as employing a full-time genetics expert who can provide counseling to pregnant women.

The revised guidelines will designate those facilities as key institutions while introducing the concept of affiliated institutions that will be newly allowed to conduct the tests. Facilities with obstetrics and gynecology specialists trained in counseling will be designated as affiliates.

If a pregnant woman takes a prenatal test at an affiliated institution and is diagnosed as having a baby with a possible genetic abnormality, she will receive counseling at a key institution.

Last year, the society set up a panel of experts in genetics and pediatrics, as well as patient group members, for discussions to revise the guidelines.

The revisions are aimed at increasing the number of qualified institutions to prevent patients from receiving testing by uncertified facilities, which tend to provide inadequate counseling.

The society will ask related academic societies for advice on the revisions. But some members of the related societies have voiced opposition.

In Japan, more than 65,000 pregnant women have taken noninvasive prenatal tests over the five and a half years since they started. More than 90 percent of those diagnosed as having babies with chromosomal abnormalities had abortions.