IVF parents should do what they’re told, says bioethicist

Utilitarian bioethicists normally seem free-wheeling types who encourage people to create the kind of children they want. But a paper given by a Dutch bioethicist suggests that utilitarians, too, have a Puritanical streak. It turns out that they should only create healthy eugenically-fit children.

In a paper about the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis at a European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Barcelona, Wybo Dondorp suggested that it was probably immoral to allow parents who wanted a “better” child to backtrack and settle for a defective child. And if parents ask, doctors should be resolute in telling them No.

In PGD parents typically ask fertility clinics to screen their embryos for a gene which causes a genetic disease. But sometimes no such embryos are found. In this case, says Dr Dondorp, doctors should refuse to transfer affected embryos, on the principle that they have a professional responsibility to do no harm. “An example is an embryo that is homozygous for cystic fibrosis, where the child will definitely have the disease. In such cases,” he says, “it is inconceivable that doctors would agree to transfer these embryos as it would be at odds with their professional responsibilities."

What about genes for late onset diseases like breast cancer which will only strike after 35 or 40 years, if ever? Dr Dondorp says that the parents should naturally have some say in the matter -- but not much. The welfare of a future child is far too important a decision to be left up to parents. It should be left in the hands of eugenicist professionals. ~ ESHRE, July 7

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