Universal newborn screening has been heralded as one of the most critical public health interventions of the 20th century. Preventing the onset of disease by locating asymptomatic patients at birth has popular appeal. In reality, however, screening technologies cannot always distinguish between true positive and false positive results. This creates turmoil in the lives of new parents struggling with the possibility that their infant is at risk for disease. Based on extensive ethnographic research, this talk discusses how parents and geneticists manage the unintended consequences of universal newborn screening, and the extent to which newborn screening actually saves lives.
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