Image: Ultrasound
Andersen Ross  /  Getty Images file
Doctors and technologists receive years of training to perform ultrasound exams, which offer parents the first glimpse of the fetus and obstetricians images to check a baby’s health. A new California law prevents over-eager parents from buying them for home use.
updated 5/4/2006 6:13:48 PM ET 2006-05-04T22:13:48

The California Assembly has 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 bought an ultrasound machine to see images of his unborn child. The actor’s fiancee, Katie Holmes, gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Suri, last month in Los Angeles.

Doctors and technologists typically receive years of training to perform ultrasound exams, which help obstetricians check a baby’s health.

Cruise was criticized by doctors who said improperly using the devices can harm a fetus.

Lieu said his bill was intended to prohibit copycats from using the devices at home. An ultrasound machine listed on the online auction site eBay was selling for $5,500 Wednesday.

“What we don’t want is someone who unintentionally damages the fetus,” Lieu said Thursday on the Assembly floor.

“If someone sees Tom Cruise buy one, they think this is the thing to do,” added Lieu. “There’s really no medical reason for an untrained person to use this machine."

The actor’s publicist, Paul Bloch, did not return phone messages seeking comment. Cruise has been promoting his new film, which opens in theaters Friday.

Ban on unlicensed use
The chamber voted 55-7 to pass the bill and send it to the Senate.

The bill prohibits a manufacturer or person from selling, leasing or distributing an ultrasound machine to any person other than a licensed practitioner.

Some Republican lawmakers questioned whether the bill would prohibit the use of ultrasound devices by private companies that provide keepsake photos for parents-to-be.

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Lieu said it would not, as long as the person operating the machine was licensed under a certain section of the state’s Business and Professions Code.

Laboratory tests have shown that certain diagnostic levels can affect human tissue, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency has determined that keepsake fetal videos and personal snapshots are an unapproved use of a medical device.

The machine is also used by doctors on a high-frequency setting to get a better image of an adult’s kidneys, pelvis, uterus and other internal organs.

There are many settings “you would only use on adults and not on a fetus,” said Dr. Miyuki Murphy, director of ultrasound at Radiological Associates of Sacramento.

“Obviously, somebody enamored with their own child would want to use it all the time,” said Murphy, identified by the California Medical Association as an expert on the topic. “You might push that button because the pictures are prettier.”

Critics of the bill said lawmakers should leave such decisions to health professionals.

“We don’t have the expertise to dispense medical advice,” said Assembly woman Audra Strickland, the mother of a 6-month-old daughter.

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