Another First - UK Clinic to Weed Out Embryos for Cosmetic Defects

By Gudrun Schultz

  LONDON, United Kingdom, May 8, 2007 ( - Doctors at a British fertility clinic will begin screening embryos for cosmetic defects, the first time a license to do so has been issued in the country.

  A business man and his wife applied to London’s Bridge Centre family clinic for screening procedures to ensure an embryo would be created without the father’s genetic eye disorder—the man and his father both have an eye condition which gives them a severe squint.

  Doctors at the clinic were granted a license to screen for the cosmetic condition by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

  During the screening process, embryos conceived in a laboratory are tested at the eight-cell stage to see if they carry the potential for the unwanted disorder or characteristic. If they do, the embryo will be destroyed and doctors will test another for implant into the mother’s womb. Previously, the use of embryo screening was limited to severe disorders such as cystic fibrosis or blood disorders.

  The procedure has been condemned by critics as a eugenics tool to eliminate those seen as physically unfit from society, with embryos showing genetic markers that indicate the child may develop a disorder discarded, in favour of genetically “pure” embryos. The international pro-life movement anticipated the eventual use of embryo screening to produce “tailor-made” babies.

  Prof. Gedis Grudzinskas, with the Bridge Centre clinic, told the Telegraph UK that he believes the HFEA’s decision to permit screening for an eye disorder marks the beginning of a widespread relaxation of screening rules, Prof. Grudzinskas said. “We will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions.”

  He said he would screen embryos for hair color or any cosmetic condition that caused distress to parents.

“If there is a cosmetic aspect to an individual case I would assess it on its merits. [Hair colour] can be a cause of bullying which can lead to suicide. With the agreement of the HFEA, I would do it.

“If a parent suffered from asthma, and it was possible to detect the genetic factor for this, I would do it. It all depends on the family’s distress.”

  Dr David King, a microbiologist and the director of Human Genetics Alert, said he strongly opposed the use of genetic screening for cosmetic conditions.

“Philosophers love to deride the idea of a slippery slope, but here it is in practice,” Dr. King said. “We moved from preventing children who will die young to those who might become ill in middle age. We now discard those who will live as long as the rest of us but are cosmetically imperfect.”

  Dr. King accused the HFEA of violating its own guidelines for permitting embryo screening. “The HFEA has ignored public opinion and has ignored its own rules which say that PGD should only be allowed for serious medical conditions.”

  A spokesman for the HFEA defended the decision, saying, “We give consideration to any couple who come to us through a clinic. We judge each case on its merits, and it would depend on the severity of the case and the effect on the family. The experience of any parent living with a condition would be taken into account.”

  See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

  Home Gender Test Will Lead to Sex-Selection Abortion, Experts Warn

  First UK Babies Born after New Method of Eugenic Embryo Screening

  Screening IVF Babies For Defects Poised to Leap to Whole New Level"

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