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Time Limitations

With prenatal diagnostic testing, there is a duty to schedule tests in a timely manner so that a patient is not deprived of choice by delays. If the only available abortion facility will not perform an abortion after 20 weeks, then amniocentesis cannot be scheduled for 17 weeks if the results may take 6 weeks to come back. The results must be available in time for the patient to abort a defective fetus if she chooses. A physician who refers patients out for such testing has the responsibility to ensure that the test results are available in a timely manner. There should be a system of flagging the calendar so that results that have not come back in time are investigated. If the results are lost or the specimen destroyed, the physician must have left enough time to try again. The physician may have to work to find a laboratory that can handle a rush job or to arrange a late abortion. It is the physician's duty to do everything possible to preserve the patient's options. If a screening program routinely schedules such tests toward the end of the window of opportunity, the physicians should get this corrected or refer to another program. If the time is cut close on all the patients, eventually there will be a mistake in dates or a laboratory failure that will push a patient beyond the limit. The fact that the system endangered other patients in the same way will be a poor defense in a lawsuit.


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