The decision-making process of genetically at-risk couples considering preimplantation genetic diagnosis: Initial findings from a grounded theory study

Patricia E. Hershberger, Agatha M. Gallo, Karen Kavanaugh, Ellen Olshansky, Alan Schwartz, Ilan Tur-Kaspa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Exponential growth in genomics has led to public and private initiatives worldwide that have dramatically increased the number of procreative couples who are aware of their ability to transmit genetic disorders to their future children. Understanding how couples process the meaning of being genetically at-risk for their procreative life lags far behind the advances in genomic and reproductive sciences. Moreover, society, policy makers, and clinicians are not aware of the experiences and nuances involved when modern couples are faced with using Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). The purpose of this study was to discover the decision-making process of genetically at-risk couples as they decide whether to use PGD to prevent the transmission of known single-gene or sex-linked genetic disorders to their children. A qualitative, grounded theory design guided the study in which 22 couples (44 individual partners) from the USA, who were actively considering PGD, participated. Couples were recruited from June 2009 to May 2010 from the Internet and from a large PGD center and a patient newsletter. In-depth semi-structured interviews were completed with each individual partner within the couple dyad, separate from their respective partner. We discovered that couples move through four phases (Identify, Contemplate, Resolve, Engage) of a complex, dynamic, and iterative decision-making process where multiple, sequential decisions are made. In the Identify phase, couples acknowledge the meaning of their at-risk status. Parenthood and reproductive options are explored in the Contemplate phase, where 41% of couples remained for up to 36 months before moving into the Resolve phase. In Resolve, one of three decisions about PGD use is reached, including: Accepting, Declining, or Oscillating. Actualizing decisions occur in the Engage phase. Awareness of the decision-making process among genetically at-risk couples provides foundational work for understanding critical processes and aids in identifying important gaps for intervention and future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1536-1543
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Assisted reproductive technology
  • Decision theory
  • Decision-making
  • Family planning
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Prenatal diagnosis
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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