Page 3, 15th May 1998

15th May 1998
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Page 3, 15th May 1998 — 'Laissez-faire' eugenics alert
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'Laissez-faire' eugenics alert

Bess Twiston Davies on a 'dangerous' new ante-natal screening method A Nte,:c METHOD Of Screening embryos for defects will expand the "laissez-faire eugenics" prevalent in ante-natal screening, a leading expert on eugenics warned last week.

Speaking at a conference in London on pre-implantation diagnosis (PID), organised by the Centre for Bioethics and Public Policy, Dr David King, Editor of GenEthics, described MD a technique which detects disease-carrying genes in the embryo as "dangerous".

Dr King said the new screening tool was "the crucial technological element in a system of expanded laissez faire eugenics".

Only four medical units have licenses to research into PID.

Lord Winston of the Wolfson Family Clinic, an infertility and research unit at London's Hammersmith Hospital, is the pioneer of British research into PID.

At the conference, he distanced himself from suggestions that the technique carried eugenic implications.

"I firmly believe we are made in God's image," he said, "but we have been given the tools with which to improve mankind".

Lord Winston said that the method can detect cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy in embryos. It can also determine the sex of the embryo.

But he downplayed the value of the technique, saying that at the moment it can only identify a "handful of singlegene defects".

But Dr King said the method "appears to abolish the ethical question which most commentators find the most troubling of all... which conditions are so bad that preventing the existence of people who will suffer them can be justified".

Dr Pete Moore, who writes on science, said that PID may be fundamentally flawed because the method examines two cells from an eight-cell embryo on the assumption that any defect present in the examined cells will be replicated in the others.

"The chromosomes in the cells do not always copy each other exactly," he said.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the Government advisory body which issues licenses for embryo research, is to hold a public consultation on preimplantation diagnosis at the end of the year, when licensing and regulation will be discussed.

• AN eight-month-old foetus has no legal right to life, three Appeal Court judges ruled last Friday, writes Bess Twiston Davies.

The ruling came at the end of a harrowing court case over the treatment of a pregnant woman dubbed Miss S who was forced to have a Caesarean against her will when she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The 30-year old woman, a veterinary nurse, was told during the 36th week of her pregnancy that her unborn child had preeclampsia, a condition which would lead to its death unless its birth was immediately induced by Caesarean.

The judges ruled that the unborn child was not "a separate person from its mother".




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