Eugenics fear as report backs pre-pregnancy genetic screening

Pre-pregnancy genetic testing should be made available for all prospective parents so that they produce ‘healthy’ offspring, according to a controversial new report.

Those found to be carrying inherited conditions could be offered IVF, in which case they could destroy embryos carrying genetic flaws, or have the chance to adopt.

But critics have warned that the contentious proposal by the Human Genetic Commission (HGC) is tantamount to eugenics – the pursuit of genetic ‘perfection’.


The HGC’s report also recommends teaching children about pre-conception screening in their later school years. And it claims that “there are no specific social, ethical or legal principles” that would make such testing unacceptable.

But Dr Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, said: “The idea that young people should be choosing partners or deciding to use IVF based on their DNA is both dangerous and misleading.

“Even if everyone were screened, some children would still have genetic disorder because many mutations occur spontaneously and are not inherited.”

These concerns were echoed by Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, who warned that the report “will inevitably lead to young people being stigmatised and becoming unmarriageable and disabled people will feel even more threatened.”


Josephine Quintavalle, from campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, warned that the recommendations were “far too deferential to genetic determinism”.

She said: “The public always reads these reports in terms of wonderful new cures and that is very worrying.

“Killing the carrier of a genetic disease does not eradicate or cure the disease. It is simply a modern version of eugenics.”


The report recommends that the screening be made available to everyone who might benefit, but that individuals and couples should not “feel obliged” to undergo it. It also recommends “non-directive” counselling on the issue.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Genetic screening can be a powerful diagnostic tool in assessing an individual’s risk of conditions such as cystic fibrosis. But there are a number of considerations that are broader than the remit of this report which influence whether specific screening programmes should be established.”

The report’s recommendations will now be considered by the UK National Screening Committee.


Last year it was revealed that the UK’s fertility treatment regulator had 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) included a number of conditions which are considered minor, non-life-threatening or medically treatable.

Thalassemia, a blood disorder which can cause mild anaemia, was on the list, even though having it did not hinder the career of seven-times Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras.


The HFEA’s list also included 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.