3/04/2006

Vatican Forbids Screening Emryos

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Scientists told a Vatican conference Tuesday that screening embryos for disease before implanting them in in-vitro fertilization posed grave ethical problems that could ultimately result in parents choosing the type of children they want.

The warning, however, was rejected as unfounded by outside scientists.

The Vatican conference, which ended Tuesday, focused on the ethics surrounding the handling of embryos before they are implanted in in-vitro fertilization procedures when they are just a few days old and a few cells in size.

On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI told the conference that even such young embryos deserve the same right to life as fetuses, children and adults.

Scientists and doctors invited by the Vatican to speak said there were serious moral and ethical issues surrounding pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, known by its acronym PGD. In the procedure, a cell from an embryo is tested for genetic conditions and diseases, such as Downs Syndrome, sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.

If the embryo has the condition, it is typically discarded so that only healthy embryos are selected for transfer into the woman's uterus.

However, panelists warned that embryos could be tested for other traits deemed desirable for parents, such as a specific gender to "balance" out families.

There have also been cases where parents seek to have a child with specific non-diseased characteristics to help a diseased older sibling through tissue or organ donation, they said.

"How will this 'savior' child live his situation?" asked Prof. Marie-Odile Rethore, a member of France's Jerome Lejeune Institute, which conducts research into Down's Syndrome. "How will he live the death of the older child he was not able to save?"

In a paper delivered at the conference, she said France's National Committee on Ethics issued its opinion on the topic in 2002, saying: "If medically assisted procreation is no longer aimed at favoring the birth of children for themselves but to be used to repair another child, we are entering into a humanity that despises itself."

Other panelists warned that the right to privacy of the unborn child may be violated since its future health may already be mapped out by the PGD tests. That could lead to discrimination later in life, if it is known that the child may be predisposed to get diseases such as Alzheimer's, they said.

Such concerns were as old as the earliest prenatal tests, like amniocentesis, said Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

When those tests were first performed, there was concern among some that "next week we'll be aborting babies because their eye color isn't blue," he said.

"The public draws a bright line in the sand as to those types of enhancements that would or would not be socially acceptable," said Simpson, who was not at the conference. "These are hypothetical arguments."

He stressed that the ethical implications of new technology are constantly being reviewed and considered by the scientific community. And he said that most couples who choose to do PGD do so specifically to avoid aborting a fetus later on in the pregnancy.

"So the Vatican's message has been heard, but not to the extent that the Vatican would like it to be," he said.

NWCN.com | News for NW Cable News | AP Headlines

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