Does PGD protect future generations, or is it becoming a tool for designing them?
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Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a procedure that can be carried out during IVF in order to select an embryo with the fewest deficiencies. Cells are taken from a fertilised egg to test for undesirable genetic conditions in order to avoid passing them on to offspring. This begs the question as to what constitutes an undesirable condition? And, in the wrong hands, how dangerous is the potential for exploitation? In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryonic Authority (HFEA) are responsible for monitoring fertilisation procedures, including determining who qualifies for them. As far as PGD is concerned, families with either a history of “serious” conditions or a child with such a condition qualify, as do those who have had “a number of abortions” due to genetic weakness. The HFEA has compiled a list to determine what constitutes a serious condition. They have come up with over one hundred, including cystic fibrosis and early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alongside this you will also find the gene for Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome which, although carrying serious difficulties of its own, could hardly said to be deteriorating in itself. Also listed are several genes for deafness, though not necessarily for the reasons you may think. A survey carried out in 2006 by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has shown that, in the USA, PGD has been used by deaf parents to actively select an embryo that will lead to offspring with the same characteristic. The issue here is not particularly that the parents are depriving their children of sound, because the deaf culture experiences a difference in sensory perception. The issue is that one individual is making that decision for another individual, based on personal preference rather than concern for their survival. This is parental control in the extreme, and certainly does not seem to me to be a “serious” genetic condition that needs manipulation in either direction.
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