27. March 2006 · Comments Off on Responsible Parenting Or Eugenics? · Categories: Politics, Science!, Technology

Philip Chaston at Samizdata blogs on a new IVF clinic in Britain, offering genetic screening for congenital diseases:

The £5 million centre will bring pioneering embryo screening techniques for the creation of “saviour siblings” to Britain.

In addition, it will offer testing for up to 100 inherited gene disorders such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis.

Embryos found to be carrying rogue genes will be discarded and only “healthy” embryos implanted into their mothers.

Controversially, doctors at the centre have already obtained the first British licence to treat a couple with an inherited form of bowel cancer in the hope that their baby will never develop the disease. The centre is to be opened by the private Care at the Park IVF Clinic in Nottingham within three months.

But campaigners last night said it represents a further step by the IVF industry on the slippery slope towards eugenics and parents being able to choose characteristics for their children such as blue eyes or blond hair.

Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “Paying £5 million for a state-of-the-art centre in order to eliminate more embryos with disabilities sounds like aggressive eugenics. We need to develop real cures for genetic diseases, not kill the carriers.”

This may seem a bit odd to us here in the US, where such procedures have been relatively commonplace for years. For all the talk of the antediluvian nature of America’s “Religious Right”, the medical regulatory environment in Britain is far more restrictive.

Eugenics is a term with a lot of emotional impact, due to its association with Nazi Germany and genocide. But the key difference here is the absence of state coercion. Indeed, to the clear thinking and amoral individual, this liberal eugenics lacks the ethical pitfalls of the lamentable chapter in human history. As I see it, only the hardcore Life Begins at Conception crowd could have objection to this. But they have a Luddite objection to IVF procedures in the first place, so nothing new there.

As well, the article uses the term designer babies quite liberally. To me – and I believe I’m in the majority, at least here in the US – genetic selection doesn’t imply design. A real designer baby would be one which has had its genome actually altered to achieve the desired (normal, exceptional or even superhuman) traits. We have a little ways to go with our science before we are there.

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