Genetic diagnosis should be a government priority: Savulescu

Julian Savulescu, together with Monash IVF stakeholder Kelton Tremellen, has called on the Australian government to subsidise preimplantation genetic diagnosis, arguing that genetic screening is in the interests both of children and of future generations. In an article that forms part of The Conversation’s series on ‘big ideas’ for the 2016 Australian federal election,  Savulescu and Tremellen list what they see as strong reasons to fund genetic testing for prospective IVF parents. 

Savulescu and Tremellen suggest that, insofar as we “count the value of the life of a child produced by IVF as a benefit”, it is very cost effective to screen children for congenital conditions like cystic fibrosis.

“While the Australian government does pick up the tab for the majority of IVF costs, it pays absolutely nothing towards the costs of genetic testing, which are borne by the prospective parents. This appears to be a strange position when one considers the costs associated with care for a child born with cystic fibrosis, estimated to be over A$30,000 a year.”

They also suggest that there are ‘impersonal reasons’ that count in favour of government subsidies for prenatal genetic diagnosis:

“…we also feel intuitively that a world without cystic fibrosis is a better world… Sometimes these reasons are called “impersonal reasons”, reasons that are unconnected to harm and benefit to persons… The implication of this for IVF and genetic selection is that we have some direct impersonal reasons to support these.” 

Savulescu and Tremellen conclude their article with suggestion that it would be in the government’s interest to support genetic testing for “non-disease traits”:

“These arguments suggest much more funding should be put into IVF and genetic selection to avoid serious disease. But they also extend to other non-disease traits. It is better if people have talents and gifts, are happy, co-operative, empathetic, altruistic and so on… Genetic selection should be supported to have children who will have better lives, not merely healthier lives. It ought to be a priority.”

The argument advanced in the article reflects Savulescu’s general bioethical theory of procreative beneficence – the view that parents have an ethical duty wherever possible to bring into existence healthy children.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | eugenics, genetic screening, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, public policy

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