National / Science & Health

Private clinics get Japan medical body's OK to do prenatal tests for chromosome irregularities

JIJI

The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s (JSOG) executive board has decided to allow obstetrician-gynecologists who run private practices to conduct blood tests on pregnant women to detect possible chromosome abnormalities such as Down syndrome in their fetuses.

Currently, 92 hospitals, mostly large ones, have been authorized to do the so-called new type of prenatal diagnosis, introduced in Japan in 2013, under strict conditions amid criticism that the tests could lead to a situation in which the fetus is allowed to fully develop or be aborted in the case of any abnormalities.

The conditions, set chiefly by JSOG and the Japan Society of Human Genetics, include providing sufficient counseling before and after testing.

But the JSOG board decided to ease the rules substantially given the fact that many pregnant women have been taking the tests at unauthorized clinics without receiving enough counseling.

According to a draft of the revised rules, the existing authorized hospitals will become “core” institutions, and other hospitals and town clinics with permanent obstetrics and gynecology specialists who have completed JSOG-designated training courses will newly be approved as “partner facilities” to do the tests. Initially, approval may be given to around 100 facilities, people familiar with the matter said.

The partner hospitals and clinics will be allowed to carry out the tests after providing simple explanations about test procedures and relevant information to examinees and obtaining their consent.

If the results of tests at partner facilities suggest any possibility of chromosome abnormalities, detailed counseling will be offered by doctors at the core hospitals.

In addition, the partner facilities will not be required to have permanent pediatricians with deep knowledge about the lives of people with chromosome abnormalities and systems to support them if such doctors are made available for discussions with pregnant women when it becomes necessary.

JSOG, which has discussed revision of the conditions in panels attended by representatives from patient groups and pediatricians since last year, hopes to implement the simplified rules in June after soliciting comments from the public as well as related academic societies.

But many academic groups oppose easing the conditions, claiming that the quality of counseling may deteriorate, people familiar with the matter said.

According to data provided by a group of authorized hospitals, more than 65,000 pregnant women took the tests, and 90 percent of women whose fetuses were diagnosed with chromosome abnormalities chose abortion.