The UK’s fertility treatment regulator has published a list of 116 genetic conditions for which doctors can destroy IVF embryos without seeking special permission.
The list compiled by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) includes a number of conditions which are considered minor, non life-threatening or medically treatable.
These include illnesses suffered by some of history’s highest achievers, but the HFEA list allows UK fertility doctors to routinely destroy embryos if tests show they are at risk of developing such conditions.
Thalassemia, a blood disorder which can cause mild anaemia, is on the list, even though having it did not hinder the career of seven-times Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras.
The HFEA’s list also includes Marfan’s syndrome, a condition which can lead to abnormal growth.
Former US President Abraham Lincoln and French leader Charles de Gaulle are both believed to have suffered from this condition.
UK fertility clinics identify genetic conditions using a technique known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
PGD involves removing cells from embryos and running tests on them, although some embryos may be harmed by this process.
After PGD screening only the ‘healthy’ embryos are implanted into a woman’s womb. The embryos carrying ‘defects’ are discarded.
Critics say screening embryos raises serious ethical problems and widens the door to the possibility of creating flawless designer babies.
Dr David King, the Director of Human Genetics Alert, said: “It contributes to a social climate in which even minor deviations from ‘normality’ are seen as unacceptable.”
The HFEA is responsible for licensing and monitoring UK fertility clinics and all UK research involving human embryos. It is currently considering adding a further 24 inherited conditions to the 116 it already lists.
Although the UK allows PGD to be used for screening embryos for inherited conditions it cannot be used to select the child’s sex.
Some British couples have travelled to America so that they can select the sex of their children.
However, last August a Chinese study conducted on mice revealed memory decline in adulthood, prompting fears that PGD testing could increase the risk of offspring developing neurodegenerative disorders.