The recent decision by the Supreme Court regarding abortion rights had me thinking about genetic testing and hemophilia. I recall that when I decided to have another child, following my first who had hemophilia, doctors were pushing for genetic testing. Why? I asked. We had already decided that if a sonogram showed a boy, we would do another C-section. Otherwise, let nature take its course. The doctor kept offering genetic services, but… when I suggested that he wanted the test in case a parent might want an abortion if genetic tests showed hemophilia? The topic not everyone wants to discuss directly? And that would not happen in my case regardless? The conversation ended, happily on both sides.
I recall a case many years ago of a British couple who sued their doctor, because he told them that their unborn child would not have hemophilia. And he indeed did. The implication was that despite having a beautiful baby boy, they were arguing that they would have aborted the fetus, had they known he had hemophilia. So they wanted monetary compensation for bringing their baby with hemophilia to term.
Genetic testing, abortion… topics peppered with landmines of emotion, legality, and belief systems.
But the bottom line is: Do you wonder or know if you or your daughter might be a carrier for a genetic mutation that causes hemophilia? This topic also comes up in Facebook groups from time to time. Supreme Court aside, it’s a good question to consider.
There’s a chance that a female is a carrier if she is the mother, grandmother, or sister of a biological son, grandson, or brother with hemophilia; or the aunt, cousin, or niece of a male with hemophilia related through her mother. If you or your daughter fits any of these scenarios, you might want to consider genetic testing to determine carrier status. There’s no need in the case of a female born to a male with hemophilia; she is an obligate carrier and will have the gene for hemophilia on one of her X chromosomes.
Genetic testing identifies changes in the normal structures of proteins, genes, and chromosomes. An integral part of genetic testing is the counseling that goes with it, to help patients understand and adapt to medical, psychological, and familial implications of genetics contributing to disease.
Many large health insurance plans cover genetic testing when it’s recommended by a doctor. Often, genetic testing for hemophilia is a covered benefit because learning hemophilia carrier status can impact medical care. Many insurance companies consider genetic testing medically necessary if a person is at risk for inheriting a disease or disorder.
But insurance coverage for genetic testing is inconsistent among health insurance companies, and even within a single company’s plans.
There are pros and cons to genetic testing. It’s essential to consider the risks of not being tested, given chances of being a carrier, as well as the risks of being tested.
Some pros? Knowing carrier status before a medical procedure can help prevent bleeding complications. It’s probably good to test factor levels of females with a family history of hemophilia at as early an age as possible. According to NHF’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MASAC), at least 50% of females who are carriers for hemophilia also have factor levels below 50%, putting them at risk for excessive bleeding during delivery of a baby as well as during a surgery, accident, or menstruation.
It’s also important that your daughter understands the risks of being tested. For privacy reasons, some people choose to pay out-of-pocket for genetic testing so that the testing and results do not appear in their medical record. Ask a genetic counselor about the actual cost of testing before consenting. In 2017, eligible potential carriers could seek carrier testing at no cost through NHF’s “My Life Our Future” program at qualified hemophilia treatment centers.
It can be empowering to know if you’re a carrier of a genetic mutation that causes hemophilia. A woman who knows her risk of passing a bleeding disorder on to her child can better advocate for herself. And for her rights and beliefs—whatever they may be— on a national scale.