Newborn screening saves lives

Dr. Susan Winter is a volunteer member of the California Central Valley Division Public Affairs Committee of the March of Dimes
Should a child born in California be any less protected from disease than one who is born in another state? Of course not. Unfortunately, until now, where you live has been a determining factor in whether your newborn is tested for several dozen rare but devastating diseases.

With the historic approval this year of a permanent screening program for California’s next generation—our newborn babies—the results already are assured: Babies’ lives will be saved.

Two years ago, the state tested half of its newborns to gauge the benefits of expanded screening using the latest technology. In all, some 400,000 babies were tested for 30 potential disorders that could be treated. Left untreated, most of these disorders would have dramatic and tragic consequences for the babies’ lives.

The public-private partnership proved to be a phenomenal success—saving the lives of 50 babies. That’s almost one life saved per week throughout the year and millions of dollars saved in ongoing treatment for the disorders, had they gone undetected.

Now, the newborn-screening program has become permanent and will be expanded so that every California baby is tested for more than 70 metabolic disorders, utilizing the most advanced technology. The program is in effect in many countries worldwide and is tremendously cost-effective. It’s basically a no-brainer because it’s a life-saver. Approved in August, the state program is expected to be fully implemented no later than August 1, 2005.

Until that time, the March of Dimes is urging parents to request a supplemental screening kit from private laboratories in advance of the birth of their child. For information on how to request a supplemental screening kit, parents should talk to their doctor and call the Genetic Disease Branch of the California Department of Health Services at (510) 412-1502. For more information about newborn screening, visit the March of Dimes’ Web site at

Screening saves children’s lives. It’s not something that ought to be left to chance.