DAA News Network

Designer Babies?

Posted 14/1-09 at 19.45

In London the first baby was born this month free of a genetic variation linked to breast cancer. This sparks fears that more ‘designer babies’ will be selected. Disabled people are concerned that their lives are seen as not worth living, as doctors will increasingly screen-out genetic defects, unwanted differences and impairments.

The baby girl was born to parents who received fertility treatment in London.

"This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life," said Paul Serhal, head of the Assisted Conception Unit at UCL Hospital.

The husband's grandmother, mother, sister and a cousin have all been diagnosed with breast cancer. Several embryos were screened. Two embryos found not to have the faulty BRCA1 gene were implanted, and one grew to full pregnancy. The other embryos were deemed not worth saving and discarded.

Today there are already over 60 conditions for which pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is available. With the birth of this baby girl, the UK is more liberal in its bioethics laws, than other European countries, where such embryo-selection is prohibited.

Pre-implantation genetic testing (PGD) is a technique used to identify genetic defects in embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) before pregnancy. This can be used when one or both genetic parents has a known genetic difference or defect. Testing is performed on an embryo to see if it also carries this genetic code.

In contrast, pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) refers to techniques where embryos from presumed chromosomally normal genetic parents are screened for one or more extra or missing chromosomes. This technique is a step further towards ‘designing’ babies, because it screens out what is unwanted in pregnancies where no genetic variation is known to exist in either parent. Reports in 2007 confirmed that over 90% of babies with Down Syndrome were aborted.

Michael Aston from the Life charity says: “The big question is, where is it going to stop?”

Disabled people are concerned about the ‘slippery slope’ dressed-up as progress.


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