The familiar heel prick that newborns receive is revealing more about a baby’s health than ever before. But, as technology opens the possibility of screening newborns for hundreds of diseases, there is controversy over how much parents need to know.
Within days of an infant being born, a few drops of blood are taken from the baby’s heel and tested for signs of more than two dozen different conditions, including congenital hypothyroidism and sickle-cell diseases. In many places, babies also are given tests to identify the likelihood of hearing or vision disorders.
Some states have expanded their checks, including testing for amino-acid and metabolism disorders. Many of the new conditions being looked at have no definitive treatment or it isn’t clear whether immediate intervention is necessary. That can present an emotional dilemma for parents who may want to know if anything is wrong with their baby but in many cases have no therapy to pursue.