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Should Expectant Mothers Be Tested for HIV?

Experts debate how to reduce AIDS in newborns.
1994This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

A finding that AIDS can be prevented in infants whose mothers take the drug AZT has sparked debate over mandatory testing - and how Christians should confront the aids crisis.

The new study, conducted in health centers in the United States and France, found that infants born to women infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, were only one-third as likely to contract the virus if they and their mothers received AZT during and after pregnancy. The results of the study were published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The finding that early treatment can prevent transmission of the AIDS virus from mother to child has pitted those who argue for mandatory testing of pregnant women against those who say testing should be voluntary. "This isn't such a complicated moral call," says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "If you can prevent a young child from being infected, it would seem to me that you are under an obligation to take the steps necessary to prevent that harm."

Ruth Macklin, an ethicist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says mandatory testing or attempts at mandatory treatment "reinforces concern for the fetus or child-to-be to the possible detriment of the pregnant woman."

Meanwhile, Christians are embroiled in a different argument over mandatory testing - one that strikes at the heart of the scope and future goals of the pro-life movement.

THE ROLE OF CPCS

Some prominent Christian public policy analysts say crisis pregnancy centers (CPC), which offer pregnancy counseling and alternatives to abortion, should be on the frontlines of the fight against the spread of aids to infants.

Shepherd Smith, Jr., president of Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, ...

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