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Embryo Selection Raises Controversy

Genetic testing before conception opens 'ethical quagmire'

If you could create a healthy life and save an existing life at the same time, would you do it?

The issue is more complex than it sounds, according to an article from CNN. A procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which is expanding with the mapping of the human genome, is raising the controversy. The procedure allows parents, with the help of a medical team, to conceive a baby that has no inherited predisposition toward certain diseases. Embryos are selected after they undergo genetic testing to determine whether they are suitable.

A couple from Georgia recently used this technology to conceive a child who would be free of a deadly genetic conditon that affected his older sister, a condition that often leads to leukemia. The embryo that produced the younger brother was also selected because genetic testing determined his blood would allow him to be a stem cell donor for his sister. His umbilical cord blood was a perfect match. The Georgia couple tested 30 embryos to find a match. Five were suitable. The woman became pregnant on the fourth try. The entire process cost about $40,000.

Although that story looks like it will have a happy ending, scientists warn that the practice could lead to an ethical quagmire. The Journal of the American Medical Association says the technology "results in choice without abortion. However, it is essential to proceed with caution when the applications may exceed or progress from concerns regarding preventing inherited lethal diseases to designer genetics."

To find out more about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, you can read this article from the Yale University School of Medicine, published in the journal Hygeia, or this one from the National Human Genome Research Institute.

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