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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK
Head to head: genetic screening
Embryos are already screened for some very serious hereditary conditions
The fertility watchdog is deciding whether to increase the number of genetic diseases which can be screened for before embryos created through IVF are implanted into would-be mothers' wombs.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority already allows pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for inherited diseases like cystic fibrosis and is now looking at whether it should be used to detect genes for types of inherited breast, ovarian and colon cancer.


What may happen is that families that have this gene are presented with a choice. Nothing is going to be forced on anybody. The choice is likely to be a subjective one.

If you have a mother, a grandmother or someone who has had this in the family, who knows how dreadful it was for them, they have that choice.

The desire of all parents, especially woman, to do their best for their unborn babies is a very strong one.

We already accept routine testing for Down's Syndrome in pregnancy.

To choose an embryo before implantation is probably ethically much more acceptable than getting pregnant, deciding there's something wrong with the baby and getting an abortion.

I don't think there's a slippery slope. We have had the tightest controls in this country for nearly 20 years and by and large it's not gone wrong.

This happens already in that people who have a family history like that can choose to have no children.

Imagine if you live knowing that you are going to have this disease let's say in your 30s

Every month a sexually active woman loses fertilised embryos - nature chooses the healthy ones to implant.

To go for the healthy ones is a perfectly natural choice for people to make.

The regulations at the moment require that only the most serious conditions can be screened for. But serious is viewed subjectively.

The real danger in this situation is the globalisation of PGD.

Most developed countries are doing it, very few have the tight ethical controls that we have.

The slippery slope is that if people can't get the choice that they feel that they desperately need here they will go abroad for something less caring and sensitive.

Imagine if you live knowing that you are going to have this disease let's say in your 30s when you're forging a career.

'Ethically inhuman'

It's ethically inhuman. Where are the ethicists when a young family is left without a mother or a father because of cancer.

We are talking about a handful of families who know what it means who want to do the best for their children. We should not deny them that in a rather cold fashion.

No one's forcing it one them - it's not eugenics.


My concern comes from talking with a lot of disabled people about this and the view many of them are extremely concerned about is the proliferation of this new genetic technology.

They see it is a continuation of scientists wanting to eliminate them, stop them from being born.

The very strong stand that they make is that able-bodied people when they look at a disabled person see only the impairment. They do not see the whole person.

They say that able-bodied people have a very poor judgement of what life is like with a disability - what is possible for a person to cope with and so on.

The implication in a lot of this screening technology is that my sister's life was less worthwhile

If that's true we need to err very strongly on the side of caution and be conservative and use PGD only for the most serious conditions.

Ruth Deech is wrong, every move the HFEA makes goes in the opposite direction. It's always in favour of liberalisation.

Most people in this country would draw a clear distinction between a condition which is fatal in childbirth, which is incurable, which we can do nothing about.

Here we are talking about conditions which it's by no means certain they will develop. That if they do develop it there's a preventative treatment and even if they do develop they will have had 30 to 40 years of active life.

I think they (the HFEA) have already gone too far. They've been too liberal in a number of cases.

'Wonderful life'

For example, they have already allowed a family not wanting to have a child with autism.

I think where conditions which are only going to develop in 30 years time do allow for a reasonable life.

I had a sister who died when she was 34 from ovarian cancer.

She had a good life, she was an enormous support to me and my parents when she was alive. She had a wonderful life.

We need to get away from this idea that everybody has to have their three-score and ten years.

The implication in a lot of this screening technology is that my sister's life was less worthwhile.


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