‘Designer baby’ fears over new embryo test

The ‘designer baby’ debate has reignited as a new embryo test for thousands of different conditions could be piloted within months.

Scientists claim the test can detect 15,000 genetic conditions in embryos, including cystic fibrosis, autism and some types of cancer.

Using the controversial technique- called Karyomapping – parents could theoretically filter out IVF embryos on the basis of other characteristics such as hair and eye colour.

Critics fear the new test brings the concept of ‘designer babies’ a step closer, as it is implied that ‘flawed’ embryos should be destroyed if doctors discover genetic defects.

The Chairman of the British Fertility Centre, Professor Tony Rutherford, dismissed these concerns, saying “We are regulated; the safeguards are there.”

But commenting previously on the issue, Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, a leading autism specialist, warned that such tests could end in a repetition of the “history of eugenics” – the elimination of people with undesirable characteristics from society.

Sunday Times journalist India Knight also warned that the development of more tests will mean that women will suffer under the pressure to produce ‘perfect’ babies.

She wrote: “What interests me is the underlying suggestion of us living in a society, at some time not too far from the present, in which women start to feel that producing a ‘perfect’ embryo is the only option and that painful and risky prenatal screening (amniocentesis carries a 1%-2% risk of miscarriage) somehow becomes obligatory.

“It’s one thing feeling under pressure to be a certain weight, or to dress a certain way, or to have a pert behind, and quite another to feel that one has to put oneself through dangerous procedures in order to have perfect eggs.”

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