IVF Has Forced Us To Think About Genetic Screening

by Super User
in Blog
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In 1990, shortly before the Commons debate of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, the British fertility experts Robert Winston and Alan Handyside revealed they had analysed embryos to determine their sex, raising the possibility of screening embryos for a serious disease specific to one sex. This helped to persuade some sceptics that embryo research did, after all, have sound medical motivation.

In fact more detailed genetic analysis of cells removed from embryos to look for disease-linked genes had already been reported. This method, called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), is now permitted by the HFEA to screen for around 400 serious diseases associated with single genes (such as cystic fibrosis), so that embryos carrying disease-related gene variants will not be implanted – eliminating the risk of passing on the condition for couples who know they are carriers of the gene. But the gene-screening technology also fuels fears of designer babies, selected not to avoid disease but because they have genes thought to be linked to desirable traits such as intelligence and athleticism. That practice is illegal in the UK, but there’s no binding international legislation.

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