Friday, March 23, 2007

Embryo Ethics

Advances in medicine always bring challenges that are unexpected. Embryo screening before in-vitro fertilization usually helps parents have a healthy child. We can test for hundreds of fatal birth defects, childhood diseases and even some diseases that don't occur until adulthood. These tests are done before implantation of an embryo in infertility clinics and parents can now even choose the sex of the child. As the field advances, the ethical questions become even more important with different stakeholders having different opinions. Parents, bioethicists, disability groups, anti-abortion groups are all demanding different things. Once you choose the sex, what about other genetic features? At this time we can't identify the genes for hair color or muscles, but there is a concern that preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) will lead us on a slippery slope of "designer babies".

An American public opinion survey about PGD was done in 2004 and 68% of people supported testing for fatal childhood diseases. Forty percent thought nonmedical sex selection was OK. Twenty-eight percent supported intelligence/strength trait testing. 20% of Americans favored a complete ban on testing. (genetics and public policy center at Johns Hopkins University)

For now, it is up to doctors to decide how to use PGD. It is an important discussion for bioethicists to have. Dr. Laurie Zoloth, PhD, a bioethics professor at Northwestern School of Medicine said "The point of having bioethicists at all is so that we can reflect on the nature, goal and meaning of our actions and think in advance about how to create a world we think is just and morally good, so that we can raise questions to parents and doctors that create serious conversations about their actions." (American Medical News)

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