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Babies' Health Must be Top Priority

The health of our babies must be the first consideration when decisions are made about the future of the routine heel-prick Guthrie test, the New Zealand Medical Association says.

Since 1968 all babies born in hospitals have had the test, and samples of their DNA have been kept on file. Recently, a sample was used in a court case against the wishes of the child's mother.

The Privacy Commissioner is to investigate the privacy issues surrounding the case, and the Health and Disability Commissioner has highlighted the issue of informed consent.

The New Zealand Medical Association supports both these approaches.

"Our first and foremost concern is the health of our babies," says NZMA Chairman Dr Pippa MacKay.

"The Guthrie test is an extremely important tool, used to screen new-born babies for a range of genetic diseases. If they are found to have one of these conditions, treatment can be started immediately."

It needs to be adequately explained why the blood samples are kept indefinitely, Dr MacKay says.

"If these samples are now to be routinely used in court cases, to provide DNA evidence, it would seem that they are being used for a different purpose than that which they were gathered for.

"We would be deeply concerned if parents started refusing to allow their new-born babies to be tested, on the grounds that they have no control over how the sample is used in the future."

Dr MacKay said the health of babies should be the overriding concern in any decision being made about the future of the testing process.

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