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Diagnostic imaging

OMA requests ban on “entertainment” ultrasounds

TORONTO – The Ontario Medical Association is urging the provincial government to ban “entertainment” ultrasounds – the use of the technology for making souvenir snapshots and videos of fetuses.

The OMA also wants the province to generally prohibit anyone from buying or using a diagnostic imaging machine for other than medical uses, as California did recently in reaction to Tom Cruise’s at-home ultrasound activities.

In May 2006, the California Assembly voted to restrict the use of ultrasound machines for personal use, approving a bill that would allow them to be sold only to licensed professionals. Democratic Assemblyman Ted Lieu introduced the bill after Mission: Impossible III star Tom Cruise (pictured) bought an ultrasound machine to see images of his unborn child. The actor’s wife, Katie Holmes, gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Suri, last April.

Some physicians are concerned that commercial ultrasounds may place unborn babies in danger, noting that the effects of multiple ultrasound exams on a fetus are unknown. Even though the technology makes use of sound waves rather than ionizing radiation, sound energy can be damaging at certain frequencies and intensities; experts believe it should be left in the hands of trained professionals.

According to the National Post newspaper, several businesses – with names such as UC Baby, 3DBaby and See3 D – have cropped up in recent years offering to use ultrasound for the amusement of parents and others.

A typical package at one of the operations supplies a 20-minute ultrasound session, optional gender assessment, listening to the baby’s heartbeat, images on a CD and two 4x6 photos for $149.

“We are concerned that there are entrepreneurs out there using this as an opportunity to make a quick dollar,” Dr. Markus Prieditis, head of the OMA’s diagnostic imaging section, told the National Post. “They are buying a piece of medical equipment and saying, ‘Come in and have some baby pictures taken’ and ‘There’s no risk.’ That is a problem – and we’re seeing more of it.”

Dr. Prieditis and his colleagues want governments to outlaw the practice and recently convinced the medical association’s governing council to pass a resolution to that effect. The OMA intends to discuss the issue with provincial officials early this year.

“We don’t want to harm unborn babies,” Dr. Shia Salem, a radiologist at
Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told Global National news services last May, when Tom Cruise’s ultrasound purchase made headlines. “We just don’t know, and I think it would be irresponsible of us and say, have an ultrasound every other week.”

“In all, I had a few extras,” said Fiona Ridley, one of many Toronto mothers who would pay $200 for a 30-minute scan that comes complete with an online photo gallery, a DVD with the session and between 10 and 25 pictures – depending on how ‘entertaining’ the baby is. “Probably around six or seven. No. Eight.”

And there is no limit to the number of scans a woman can have. In one Toronto clinic, approximately 120 sets of soon-to-be parents opt in for the home movie experience that begins in the belly – every month. “The ultrasound is not a toy,” Dr. Salem adds. “It’s not a camera, it’s a medical device.”