Texas to discard millions of babies' blood samples

WASHINGTON -- A critical safety net for babies -- that heel prick of blood taken from every newborn -- is facing an ethics attack.

After those blood spots are tested for devastating diseases, some states store them for years.

Scientists consider the leftover samples a treasure, both to improve newborn screening and to study bigger questions, such as which environmental toxins can harm a fetus' developing heart.

Seldom are parents asked to consent to such research, raising privacy concerns that are shaking up one of public health's most successful programs.

Texas is poised to throw away blood samples from more than 5 million babies to settle a lawsuit from parents angry at what they call secret DNA warehousing.

Advisers to the U.S. government hope to have national recommendations by spring on how to assure that all babies still get their newborn tests while allowing parents more say in what happens next.

Newborn screening began in the 1960s, and today every baby is supposed to be tested for at least 29 rare genetic diseases.

Texas -- which will soon discard blood spots stored since 2002 rather than tracking down families for consent -- now seeks parental permission to store leftovers.

It has requests to destroy about 13,772 children's blood spots out of about 400,000 births since May, health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams says.