In the 1960s, thanks to the development of prenatal diagnosis, medicine found a new object of study: the living fetus. At first, prenatal testing was proposed only to women at a high risk of giving birth to an impaired child. But in the following decades, such testing has become routine.
In her new book “Imperfect Pregnancies“, published for John Hopkins University Press, Ilana Löwy argues that the generalization of prenatal diagnosis has radically changed the experience of pregnancy for tens of millions of women worldwide. Although most women are reassured that their future child is developing well, others face a stressful period of waiting for results, uncertain prognosis, and difficult decisions. Löwy follows the rise of biomedical technologies that made prenatal diagnosis possible and investigates the institutional, sociocultural, economic, legal, and political consequences of their widespread diffusion.
Because prenatal diagnosis is linked to the contentious issue of selective termination of pregnancy for a fetal anomaly, debates on this topic have largely centered on the rejection of human imperfection and the notion that we are now perched on a slippery slope that will lead to new eugenics. Imperfect Pregnancies tells a more complicated story, emphasizing that there is no single standardized way to scrutinize the fetus, but there are a great number of historically conditioned and situated approaches. This book will interest students, scholars, health professionals, administrators, and activists interested in issues surrounding new medical technologies, screening, risk management, pregnancy, disability, and the history and social politics of women’s bodies.
Ilana Löwy is emerita senior research fellow at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, and visiting professor at GHSM.
“A wonderful, erudite, and eminently readable study of the history of prenatal testing and the emergence of birth defect classification. Clearly and beautifully written, Imperfect Pregnancies vividly illuminates the cultural, social, and experiential significance of expanding prenatal testing technology.”
— Joanna Latimer, University of York, author of The Gene, the Clinic, and the Family: Diagnosing Dysmorphology, Reviving Medical Dominance
“Prenatal diagnosis finally gets the rich history it deserves, free of the distracting shadow of eugenics. Lowy shows that parents want reassurance, not perfection. Virtually all pregnant women are now ‘at risk,’ if only for uncertain test results.”
— Robert A. Aronowitz, University of Pennsylvania, author of Risky Medicine: Our Quest to Cure Fear and Uncertainty
“Pregnancy has never been safer, but thanks to the routinization of prenatal testing it is getting scarier and scarier. In this extraordinary book, Ilana Löwy highlights the profound and often tragic dilemmas that arise from the diffusion of technology long before its consequences have been debated or fully understood.”
— Steven Wolochin, MD and Lisa M. Schwartz, MD, Dartmouth Medical School, coauthors of Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics and Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health
“Ilana Löwy offers a lucid and humane account of how prenatal diagnosis went from being a rare to a routine part of pregnant women’s medical experience. She deftly traces the emergence of the current system of prenatal diagnostic screening and tests, with its contradictory impulses of public health and individual choice.Imperfect Pregnancies is an astute and timely book about how high-tech biomedicine has disturbed and reordered our most intimate experiences.”
— Angela N. H. Creager, Princeton University, author of Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine