HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, September 22, 2006

Embryo Screening

Some rather alarming news, AOL News reports on a recent study that will be published in journal Fertility and Sterility showing that fertility clinics are receiving more requests to screen for sex selection.

Boy or girl? Almost half of U.S. fertility clinics that offer embryo screening say they allow couples to choose the sex of their child, the most extensive survey of the practice suggests.Sex selection without any medical reason to warrant it was performed in about 9 percent of all embryo screenings last year, the survey found. 

Another controversial procedure - helping parents conceive a child who could supply compatible cord blood to treat an older sibling with a grave illness - was offered by 23 percent of clinics, although only 1 percent of screenings were for that purpose in 2005. 

For the most part, couples are screening embryos for the right reasons - to avoid passing on dreadful diseases, said Dr. William Gibbons, who runs a fertility clinic in Baton Rouge, La., and is president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which assisted with the survey.  "There are thousands of babies born now that we know are going to be free of lethal and/or devastating genetic diseases. That's a good thing," he said. 

However, the survey findings also confirm many ethicists' fears that Americans increasingly are seeking "designer babies" not just free of medical defects but also possessing certain desirable traits. 

Professor George Annas weighs in on the recent findings,

"That's a big problem if that's true," Boston University ethicist George Annas said of the sex selection finding. "This is not a risk-free technique," he said referring to in vitro fertilization, which can over-stimulate a woman's ovaries and bring the risk of multiple births. 

"I don't think a physician can justify doing that to a patient" for sex selection alone, Annas said. 

Survey results were published on the Internet Wednesday by the medical journal Fertility and Sterility and will appear in print later. 

The survey was led by Susanna Baruch, a lawyer at Johns Hopkins University's Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., with the cooperation of the reproductive medicine society. It involved an online survey of 415 fertility clinics, of which 190 responded.

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