Settlement is a setback for newborn screening

  • Article by: STEVE LUTZ
  • Updated: January 17, 2014 - 6:26 PM

State loses important public health battle over tests for illness and genetic diseases.

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A lab technician reviews results of a newborn screen, identifying an abnormal result, as she processes screens at the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Sept. 17, 2013.

Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT,

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It is with dismay that I read that the Minnesota Department of Health is being forced to destroy more than 1 million dried blood samples from its newborn screening program (“In battle over newborns’ blood samples, state relents,” Jan. 14).

This program is a shining example of medical and public health achievement. What began as a single test has grown in Minnesota to include the ability to test for more than 50 diseases. These diseases, if not detected, would lead to more than 12,000 cases per year of babies with severe disabilities or death, yet all can be treated if detected early with newborn screening.

In addition to the ethical justification of helping a newborn to avoid a deadly disease, the economic implications of the newborn screening program should not be overlooked. A recent study by the Association of Public Health Labs demonstrated that in California, every dollar spent on screening yields $9.32 in medical costs avoided and the value of life saved. In an era of skyrocketing health care costs, this should be a no-brainer — spend a dollar and get back $9.32. Thus, morally and economically, the newborn screening program is successful and justified.

The dried blood spots that the Department of Health is being forced to destroy would have led to further advances in newborn screening — developing new tests to save more children, improving the sensitivity of current tests and helping to study diseases to lead to cures. Certainly, the 21 families who sued the state had the right to refuse the newborn screen or opt out of having the blood saved. However, I am infuriated that by their personal lawsuits, they have taken away my ability to give consent to allow this research to continue on any dried blood spots from my relatives.

Dr. Robert Guthrie, who developed the original newborn screen for PKU, once said, “No child should die or suffer disabilities if a simple blood spot can prevent it.” How absurd that such a small group can put such a successful program at risk.

 

Dr. Steve Lutz, a pediatrician, lives in Eden Prairie.

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