Tuesday, April 2, 2013

When It's All In The Genes

The other day, I was sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office for my annual check-up and cancer prevention exams. As I leaved through the magazines that were lying around, an article on the new boom for fertility centers in Germany caught my eye. Luckily, the Mr. and I didn’t have problems in this regard, but unfortunately we know a few people who did. Following the informational article, there were a few stories of women or families struggling with infertility and the option of reproductive medicine they chose, from freezing eggs for later use via IUI and IVF to plain old adoption.
One article written by a woman in her late thirties caught my attention. She is now the mother of a little boy that she and her husband had adopted as a baby. Before they decided on the adoption, they had gone through several years of highly stressful and expensive fertility treatments, including three IVF cycles. The first of these cycles had resulted in a pregnancy; however, the baby died 4 months into the pregnancy due to severe genetic disorders and was born still.
As a little bit of background information: any and all genetic testing on embryos prior to implantation is strictly forbidden in Germany. This had been decided by an ethics commission formed by the government during the regulatory process for reproductive questions. Many reproductive options such as egg donations and surrogates are illegal altogether here.
While I definitely understand the idea behind the law, which wants to prevent parents to approach the doctors with a list of preferences in their child-to-be (i.e. catalog child), I strongly believe that the law has gone too far. I am against genetic testing on embryos for gender, eye and hair color, height, etc.; however, it seems cruel to me to implant an embryo who is destined to never be born alive into a woman, who, at that point, is probably way past 30 and has gone through years and years of hoping, waiting, and disappointments, along with often painful exams and diagnoses.
But where to draw the line? Assuming the government permits testing for genetic disorders, would that mean that embryos carrying the genes for cleft lip, club foot, an eleventh finger, asthma, or dwarfism will be sorted out? And what would happen if a couple just approached the “right” doctor with a VERY generous donation for his private fertility clinic? Would they have their tall, blond, blue-eyed boy they ever hoped for? And would normal parents without any real fertility issues turn towards IVF just to be sure to have a genetically healthy child?
I certainly am of the opinion that a strict set of rule should be in place; however, why implanting a baby bound to die before being born, a baby that would probably have never implanted naturally. Why not developing a legal framework that is humane to everyone involved, including genetic testing for lethal disorders that will spare much pain and suffering to the parents as well as the unborn child.
What is your opinion on the issue of genetic testing in embryos? Are you for or against it, or somewhere in between? Would you consider IVF as an option to ensure a healthy child even though you can have babies naturally?

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