Genetic diagnosis 'will have few social consequences'

November 22, 2001

Ethics of using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select a stem cell donor for an existing person BMJ Volume 323, pp 1240-43

Using preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to choose a stem cell donor is unlikely to cause harm to anyone and is likely to be beneficial to some, suggest researchers in this week's BMJ.

Clinical Genetics Fellow, Robert Boyle, and Professor of Medical Ethics, Julian Savulescu, argue that the uptake of this procedure will have few social consequences and is likely to be a reasonable use of limited health resources.

Since the 1980s, over 2,500 cycles of PGD have been performed worldwide. A common objection to using the procedure for the benefit of a sibling is that children conceived in this way are not valued in their own right. The authors argue that psychological harm to the offspring is unpredictable, unlikely to occur, and, even if it did occur, unlikely to be so severe that it would be better for that particular child never to have existed.

Moreover, selection of children on a much grander scale is already commonplace. An estimated 18,000 amniocenteses take place annually in Britain, mainly to detect chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, they say.

Who is harmed by allowing PGD to be performed solely for the benefit of a relative, they ask? Not the couple who wish to produce an embryo. Nor the child who would not otherwise have existed. Nor the person who receives the stem cell transplant that might save his or her life. We must avoid the trap of interfering with individual liberty by preventing such procedures for no good reason, simply out of the "genophobia" that grips much of society today.


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