As many readers of this blog already know, the biotech company Sequenom has developed a new prenatal test designed to identify Down syndrome as early as 8 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. The test is noninvasive and carries no risk for mother or child. George Estreich, author of The Shape of the Eye, examines the implications of the test itself but also of the marketing surrounding the test in a new essay for Biopolitical Times: Anatomy of a Web Page: Marketing Fetal Genes and Sequenom’s MaterniT21. I commend the whole essay, but here is one excerpt to get you thinking. Estreich describes an image and analyzes the language surrounding the marketing of this test, and he concludes:
It is, in other words, less a factual document than an act of persuasion. Though it speaks with the bland rhetoric of health and choice, and though it’s subtly done, at root it works the way most advertisements work: it engages our fears, then seeks to allay them. Down syndrome, in the world of the ad, is an abstract world of randomness and risk; MaterniT21plus is the answer.
What, then, is left out?
As ever, the actual lives of people with Down syndrome. It is not reasonable, of course, to ask Sequenom – whose continued profitability depends on the wishes of prospective parents to avoid Down syndrome – to show pictures from the latest Buddy Walk®. However, the likely effect of tests likeMaterniT21 is to depopulate the Buddy Walks of the future. This isn’t a matter of evil, or prejudice; it’s just economics, and individual decisions adding up to social change.