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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
'Make IVF genetic screen routine'
Image of egg being fertilised artificially
Fertilised eggs can be checked for genetic abnormalities
All IVF embryos should be checked for genetic abnormalities before the pregnancy is allowed to go ahead, say international genetic experts.

A London conference on preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) heard how this technique greatly increases the chance that a healthy child will be born.

IVF pioneer Robert Edwards and PGD leader Yury Verlinsky also said couples should be allowed to choose a child's sex for "family balance".

Critics strongly opposed these ideas.

By selecting to transfer only a normal embryo, we fulfil our dreams to have a healthy child
Dr Verlinsky

Both Life and Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) said these approaches were unethical and discriminatory.

At the Sixth International Symposium on PGD, Dr Verlinksy, famed for selecting a test-tube baby whose tissue matched that of a sick sibling, presented new results showing PGD increased the take home baby rate seven-fold.

His team at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago looked at the pregnancy outcomes of 709 women undergoing IVF.

Success rates

Overall, PGD increased the chance that a woman would take home a baby from 11% to about 80%, due to fewer miscarriages and better foetal implantation rates.

Dr Verlinsky said: "It should be implemented to all IVF cases.

"About 40-70% of all embryos are somewhat abnormal and this is human nature. So by selecting to transfer only a normal embryo, we fulfil our dreams to have a healthy child."

He said although it was expensive to check embryos for disease, it was cheap in comparison to the costs associated with looking after children born with certain health problems.

Also, if it improves the success rate of IVF, that would also save money because women would need fewer cycles, he said.

Professor Robert Edwards, whose pioneering work led to the birth of the world's first test tube baby Louise Brown in 1978, said: "We need politicians to realise how far PGD has come, and it has to be paid for by the health service."

Sex selection

Dr Verlinksy, Professor Edwards and Dr James Watson, famed for uncovering the structure of DNA, all believe that parents should also be able to choose the sex of their child in some circumstances.

It is dismissive of the value of life
Josephine Quintavalle from CORE

For example, if there is a family history of a disease that affects a particular gender, but also if the couple want to balance the number of boys and girls that they have.

Earlier this year, UK MPs suggested similar. A report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee said there was "no compelling evidence" to prohibit couples undergoing IVF being able to choose to have a girl or a boy if that was what they felt was necessary to "balance out" their family.

But opinion was split.

Josephine Quintavalle from CORE said: "We are opposed to any frivolous use of IVF and this is frivolous. It is dismissive of the value of life and turning children into designer objects."

She also had major concerns about the ethics and safety of PGD screening.

A spokesman from Life said: "Just because something is scientifically possible it does not mean we should do it.

"My fear is that scientists are deriving this without recourse to ethics and public opinion."

The Department of Health said the safety, clinical effectiveness and relative health benefits of PGD would need to be assessed before any decision about widespread provision could be made.


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