Legal Experts Stand Behind Screening of Embryos

A new report by Otago University’s Human Genome Research Project finds that the law allows couples to to screen and select embryos based on their future risks of developing hereditary cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

Law experts advise that the use of technology to screen for ” late-onset conditions” was not considered by policy makers when the regulations were being drawn. However, according to this report, the wording allows it.

The report also recommends extending the use of the technology to “susceptibility” testing screening for conditions that have only a low chance of occurring and would appear only later in life. The conditions include hereditary breast, ovarian, and bowel cancers, as well as neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2004 allows the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PDG) to test embryos for serious hereditary conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, and select or reject them depending on the results.
Principal investigator, Professor Mark Henagan, dean of Otago University’s law faculty, said the regulations used the words “serious impairment,” which he describes as a “pretty open term.”
However, Henagan said that couples were likely to use it to screen for cancer risk if the family history was particularly bad, such as several women in the same family dying of breast cancer.
According to Henagan, allowing people to make choices about their family’s health was quite different to making embryo screening compulsory.
The report says the practice is unlikely to be widespread here because it requires the use of in-vitro fertilization and resulting pregnancy rates are not high.
Use of PDG to assess the risk of some cancers has recently been allowed in other countries, including Australia and Britain.

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