At the 12th Annual Fetal Alcohol Canadian Expertise (FACE) Research Roundtable on September 12th in Prince Edward Island, there was webinar held called The Ethics of Meconium Testing as Part of a Screening Toolkit for FASD.
Meconium is the first stools from an infant and is composed of materials ingested while in utero. If meconium is tested following birth, it can tell us about prenatal exposure to various substances, including alcohol. Meconium testing has the potential to tell us which babies have been exposed prenatally to alcohol and which ones may have symptoms of FASD.
While this sounds like a great opportunity for early intervention, there are a lot of murky ethical issues to consider. Issues to consider include targeted vs. universal screening (targeted screening can be potentially stigmatizing), a lack of available follow-up services in the event of positive screening, understanding that a positive result for alcohol does not translate directly into a diagnosis of FASD, and the consideration of maternal advocacy, rights, and decision-making.
The webinar includes presentations from a number of experts in the area and you can view to entire webinar on the Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres web site. You can also view a number of the powerpoint slides, including the slides of Anna Zadunayski, a barrister & solicitor and clinical ethicist at Alberta’s Children’s Hospital, called Developing Recommendations on the Role of Meconium Testing – Legal and Ethical Considerations.
See an earlier post Thinking about Meconium Screening (September 28, 2010) for more information about this method of screening for prenatal alcohol exposure.