Producer Commentary

PROGRAM: Prenatal Genetic Testing

AUTHOR: Kathy McAnally

November 1998:

In mapping out the program "Prenatal Genetic Testing: Do You Really Want to Know Your Baby's Future," I felt that it would be good to interview women from vastly different backgrounds about their decisions as to whether to have prenatal genetic testing. I'd already spoken with several women from one of this country's most liberal communities, Berkeley, California. So I decided to interview women who lived in a very different kind of place. I wanted someplace far from Berkeley geographically, a conservative community, perhaps in rural America. Sifting through memories of people I'd met almost seven years ago while working on a series of radio programs on health care in rural areas, I recalled a wonderful female doctor in Alabama named Sandral Hewlett. I called her and asked if she'd be willing to put me in touch with some of her patients. She was, so in late May I was off to Eutaw, Alabama.

Dr. Hewlett, true to her word, provided a number of patients from her clinic for interviews. The first couple of interviews didn't go especially well. I realized the women were more than a bit suspicious of my motives. The unspoken question in the air was, why had some radio producer come all the way from California to ask them intensely personal questions about their childbearing decisions anyway? But then, on the following days, I met several other women who welcomed me into their homes and seemed quite pleased that some woman from the big city wanted to put their stories into a radio program. In the end, only one person voiced the unspoken concern that I'd sensed in some of the women I'd interviewed. Dr. Paula Cosper, who runs the medical genetics program at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, asked, "You're not going to portray us as a bunch of southern hicks, are you?"

I explained to Dr. Cosper that my earlier visit to rural Alabama had forced me to confront the fact that I usually saw people and issues through a very urban lens. I came to realize that this bias subtly colors the work of many of my colleagues. So, I told Paula Cosper that I hoped that voices from the rural South would show the diversity of our culture and illuminate the differences in opinion about prenatal testing, because I believe that the decision to test or not to test is a truly personal one.