Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening

saving-babiesJoin us for a special brownbag lecture with Stefan Timmermans, author of Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology, Lyman Briggs College, and the Center for Ethics.

Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening

In 2006, U.S. states expanded their newborn screening programs. From screening newborns for 3-8 conditions, all babies born in the U.S. are now screened for up to 55 rare genetic conditions. The adoption of new screening technologies has generated diagnostic uncertainty about the nature of screening targets making it unclear not only whether a newborn will develop a disease but also what the condition actually is. Based on observations in a genetics clinic and in-depth interviews with parents and geneticists, I examine how parents and clinical staff work out the social significance of uncertain newborn screening results. I find that some newborns will experience a specific trajectory of prolonged liminality between a state of normal health and pathology. I suggest “patients-in-waiting” as a concept for those under medical surveillance between health and disease. In addition, I examine how due to screening the known diseases become ontologically unsettled, requiring bridging work in the clinic to gradually revise their understanding of the clinical nature of conditions unsettled by population-based newborn screening. I illustrate how clinicians bridge the gap between what was known about a disease prior to screening and seemingly anomalous screening results, resulting in an ontological transformation of disease categories.

apr12The lecture will take place on Friday, April 12 at 12:30 pm, in room 116 in the Natural Sciences building on MSU’s East Lansing campus. Please feel free to bring your lunch!

Stefan Timmermans is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at UCLA. He has written 4 books, most recently Saving Babies? The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening, and Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths, both from the University of Chicago Press. In his research he draws from medical sociology and science studies and uses ethnographic and historical methods to address key issues in the for-profit U.S. health care system. He has conducted research on medical technologies, health professions, death and dying, and population health, and is currently studying whole exome sequencing and the community spillover effects of lack of health insurance.

Event flyer: Saving Babies brownbag lecture