Rebecca Millette

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UK parents with three hemophiliac sons refused to ‘screen’ babies using IVF

Rebecca Millette

UNITED KINGDOM, May 13, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Gary and Tracy Woodward faced a difficult decision after their first son was diagnosed with severe hemophilia.  Doctors told them they should use in vitro fertilization and sex selection to ‘screen out’ the life-threatening bleeding disorder in other children.  The Woodwards refused.

“Gary and I both felt to have testing would be like saying we didn’t want another Ben. And we did want him, we love him so wholeheartedly,” Tracy told the Daily Mail during a recent interview.

The title of the Daily Mail article gets to the heart of the controversy, asking, “Was this woman right to have sons when she knew the terrible health risks they face?” For Tracy and her husband the answer is a resounding yes.

The British couple now have three boys, Ben, 10, Joe, 7, and Dan, 5, who all suffer from hemophilia, a bleeding disorder.  For the three active soccer players, a slight graze or bruise could be life-threatening.

“When I say I have three boys with hemophilia, I get gasps,” says Tracy. “Before having Ben, if I’d known I was a carrier of the hemophilia gene, I may have gone down the genetic testing route. But once we had Ben, there was no way we wanted to screen out our babies.”

British doctors can now ‘screen out’ genetic conditions in an IVF method called Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). However, the process involves destroying rejected embryos.

Medical ethicist, Dr. Jacqueline Laign, of London Metropolitan University, told the Daily Mail that PGD has significant “dehumanising implications” by encouraging “designer” babies. “Invite people to design offspring by clinical means and they will,” she warned.

The Woodward’s difficult journey began when their first son Ben was diagnosed with the condition when he was one.

“Ben was a happy, healthy baby,” Tracy says.  But “one day when he was just one, he was in the kitchen in his baby-walker and cut his finger on the inside of the dishwasher. It started bleeding and it just wouldn’t stop. That was the start of it.”

After the diagnosis, Tracy says, “I lay awake all night clinging to Gary, mourning for the bright future our son would never have.” She said the odds of passing the genetic condition on (50% for boys) “strangled our plans for a large family.”

However, after a while the couple began feeling more comfortable with Ben’s treatment, and began to consider having more children. 

Yet, when offered IVF sex selection to rule out the possibility of more children with hemophilia, they refused.  Later, when Tracy was offered amniocentesis while pregnant with their son Joe, to learn if he carried the disease, she again refused.

“Once we had Ben, there was no way we wanted to screen out our babies,” said Tracy.

Both Joe and Dan were diagnosed with hemophilia as infants. “The boys are normal, healthy, happy kids. They play football [soccer], although not contact sports such as rugby. We travel abroad like other families, although we do take rather a lot of medication with us,” says their mom.

“We’ve tried to teach the boys that life comes first and their condition comes second,” she says.

Tracy recounts a recent visit to the local hospital after moving to a new home. “At an appointment to set up emergency out-of-hours arrangements, the doctor said to the boys: ‘So, you three, tell me what it is you have got wrong with you?’ “ The boy’s response? ‘Nothing!’”

Read the full story at the Daily Mail here.

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