Duration 08/2016-07/2019

Reimagining prenatal care

A comparison of the emergence of next generation sequencing technologies and the transformation of democracy in Germany, Italy, and Austria

FWF - Hertha-Firnberg-Programme

PI: Ingrid Metzler

Project description

This project engages with the ways in which “cell-free fetal DNA” (cffDNA) testing – an emerging form of non-invasive prenatal testing – is about to transform both, prenatal care and democracy. Capitalizing on next generation sequencing technologies (i.e. fast and cheap high-throughput sequencing), this test transforms the cffDNA circulating in pregnant women’s blood into information about the genome of a fetus. Introduced in 2011 in the United States and in China, it has since then rapidly diffused geographically, been expanded in scope, and also given rise to a vivid debate among biomedical professionals, stakeholders, policy-makers, and publics, in which issues ranging from the technical feasibility to the social desirability of this testing have been discussed. While cffDNA testing is a globally emerging phenomenon, the actual adoption of this practice and the shape of the accompanying debate differ notably across countries. This project will investigate how cffDNA testing has begun to emerge in Germany, Italy, and Austria, in order to understand the differentiated nature of this phenomenon. Embracing a comparative approach, it wishes to contribute to current debates on prenatal care, through engaging with how this biomedical innovation is envisioned and enacted simultaneously in multiple spaces. It thus investigates testing practices, problematizations of such practices and endorsements of them in different spaces, which range from clinics, to professional organizations, and policy rooms, and analyzes how visions articulated and enacted in these different settings enter into conflict and conversation.
Combining sensitizing concepts and theoretical framings from Science and Technology Studies (in particular from the Science and Democracy tradition) and Interpretive Policy Analysis, the project proposes to develop the concept of “imaginaries of care” in order to better understand how collectives make sense of cffDNA testing and why they do this so differently in different contexts. The project defines such “imaginaries of care” as crystalizing understandings and visions on what human beings and technologies are allowed and expected to do when it comes to taking care of (unborn) human life and on how collectives ought to get voice and share, distribute or delegate responsibilities in this process of taking care. It argues that an empirical engagement with the ways in which cffDNA testing is envisioned in practiced at multiple sites, and an analysis of how, where and when these multiple visions enter into conflict and conversation, helps us advance our understanding of how visions of technologies and of democracies co-emerge.

Research approach

Combining sensitizing concepts and theoretical framings from Science and Technology Studies (in particular from the Science and Democracy tradition) and Interpretive Policy Analysis, the project proposes to develop the concept of “imaginaries of care” in order to better understand how collectives make sense of cffDNA testing and why they do this so differently in different contexts. The project defines such “imaginaries of care” as crystalizing understandings and visions on what human beings and technologies are allowed and expected to do when it comes to taking care of (unborn) human life and on how collectives ought to get voice and share, distribute or delegate responsibilities in this process of taking care. It argues that an empirical engagement with the ways in which cffDNA testing is envisioned in practiced at multiple sites, and an analysis of how, where and when these multiple visions enter into conflict and conversation, helps us advance our understanding of how visions of technologies and of democracies co-emerge. Methodologically, the project builds on the major tenets of “situational analysis” to collect, sample, and interpret data.

Contact

Ingrid Metzler, ingrid.metzler@univie.ac.at