Letter: `Designer' babies

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The Independent Culture
Letter:

`Designer' babies

Sir: Why jump to alarmist views about parents' natural desire to have healthy babies (" `Designer babies' fear in genetic screenings", 16 November)? The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is consulting on the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which is a method of screening for genetic disorders.

It is currently being used in a small number of cases where families find themselves at risk from extremely serious genetic disorders.

One of these is Tay Sachs disease, which normally kills by the age of five by the breakdown of the nervous system, often causing blindness and convulsions along the way.

To talk about "designing babies" when parents want to prevent pain, suffering and frequently early death in their offspring shows scant regard for the feelings of parents faced with extremely difficult decisions. All of the people using the technique will already have knowledge of the disease in their family. This is how they established that their children may be affected.

The HFEA has a policy of not allowing screening for intelligence or physical appearance. There will be no change in this policy. Genetic medicine is already a highly regulated field.

For PGD to be used, the parents must go through the process of in vitro fertilization. As the HFEA rightly says, this is "a physically and mentally demanding process which does not bring any guarantee of success." It has an 83-per-cent failure rate, and adding a pre-implantation diagnosis to the procedure is likely to increase that.

This in itself is likely to ensure that only people whose children may be at risk of very serious diseases will consider the treatment. Parents do not make these decisions lightly.

ALASTAIR KENT

Director, Genetic Interest Group

London N1

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