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Danger Lurks With Fertility Genetics

Experts call for federal legislation

Doctors can now manipulate DNA to help couples have children they otherwise would never have been able to conceive.

The problem is, this same technology can also be used for less altruistic reasons, such as altering characteristics like height, weight, intelligence and even tanning ability, according to this wire story on CNN.

"Efforts to modify genes transmitted to future generations have the potential to bring about not only a medical but also a social revolution," say researchers from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in a recent essay in the journal Science.

These same researchers are calling for federal regulation of fertility clinics. In addition to the ethical problems, researchers say doctors have no way of knowing yet what the long-term consequences of genetic manipulation will be.

For example, this Washington Post article on MSNBC details how fertility doctors used the genes from three people to help one couple conceive. Then, something went really wrong. Several of the fetuses had a rare genetic disorder in which one chromosome was missing. This resulted in miscarriages and abortions.

Another article, this one from the Detroit Free Press, examines the problem of what to do with all the unused embryos created at fertility clinics. Should they be destroyed, used for research or adopted by other couples? But the adoption of embryos creates another batch of ethical problems, points out the article. For example, two people who are genetically related but don't know it could end up some day marrying each other.

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