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Monday, 29 March, 1999, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Would-be parents fear genetic disease
Scientists say they are making progress on genetically inherited diseases
More than half of prospective parents would not have a family if they thought their child was at risk of inheriting a serious genetic disease, according to a survey.

Almost a third of women say they would abort a child if it was found to be affected with an inherited disease such as cystic fibrosis.

Nearly one in five prospective parents said they would not even try for a child if they thought there was a big possibility they could pass a genetic disease to it.

Only 13% said they would go ahead with the pregnancy if their baby was found to be affected by genetic disease.

Nine per cent said they would not have tests to find out if they were likely to pass on genetic conditions.

'Ignorance'

The Mori poll of around 2,000 adults was conducted by the Action Research medical research charity, which is launching a fund-raising drive.

It says it shows public ignorance of advances being made in the field of genetically inherited disorders.

Communications director John Grounds said: "Every year, this agonising choice is faced by thousands of parents who know there is a chance of passing on a disease to their children.

"Whilst we do not yet have all the answers, we already know that certain complications can be identified and treated at different stages of pregnancy and birth.

"Further medical research to diagnose and understand other conditions will bring such solutions even closer.

"Traumatic decisions about whether or not to embark upon or continue with a pregnancy may then become less frequent for many potential parents."

Many women would abort rather than risk passing on a genetically inherited disease
Action Research is developing a range of treatments for genetically inherited diseases.

They include research into obstetric cholestasis - a disease of pregnancy which can lead to premature or still birth.

No-one knows the causes of the condition, but it is thought it could be linked to raised bile acid levels.

The research will look at the way the placenta transports bile acids.

The charity is also looking into a new drug to fight the muscle-wasting disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

And it is funding the development of a new drug for rare disorders of the metabolic system, such as Gaucher's disease.

The drug is designed to be given to children at birth.

Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said the survey's results were unsurprising.

"Most people want to have a healthy baby and it is no shock that many women would consider an abortion if they discovered their child would be born with a serious inherited disease," she said.

But she warned that it was difficult for women to predict how they would feel if they faced an abnormal pregnancy.

They would not take a decision to abort lightly, said Ms Furedi.

"In our experience, women are highly motivated to find out about the condition, and doctors have an obligation to provide accurate and balanced information and a sympathetic service, whatever choice the woman makes."

Discrimination

But a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) said the numbers of women who told MORI they would abort was "considerably less" than those who actually had an abortion when the situation arose.

He said this could reflect growing awareness about discrimination against the disabled child or that women were put under "undue pressure" by the medical profession to have abortions.

He added that women might feel that screening itself provided a medical endorsement for abortion.

SPUC believes doctors should be allowed to refuse to participate in abortion if they are ethically opposed to it.

But they should not have to broadcast their views.

SPUC is against parliamentary moves to list doctors opposed to abortion.

"It would marginalise them and create a blacklist," said the spokesman.

However, SPUC is in favour of research for genetically inherited conditions as long as the advantages for the child outweigh the disadvantages.

See also:

14 Dec 98 | Health
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