DNA chip testing `could be abused'

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DNA CHIPS that need only seconds to analyse an individual's genetic make-up could lead to an ethical morass, leading doctors warn today.

As well as being abused by insurers and employers who would only want to employ "genetically clean" staff, such chips, expected to be widely available in a few years, could also mean that couples receiving in-vitro fertilisation will have less power over the future of any embryos produced by the process.

An examination of the potential effects of DNA chips appears in the latest Journal of Medical Ethics. Such chips are "an unquestionable blessing for clinical medicine", said Dr Wolfram Henn, of the Institute for Human Genetic at the University of Saarland in Germany. "But health insurers are likely to want extensive screening programmes with them, on the basis that expensive diseases could be prevented."

Similarly, Dr Heather Draper and Dr Ruth Chadwick warn that tests performed on IVF embryos before they are implanted in the womb could mean that the doctor, rather than the parents, would have the final say on whether implantation went ahead.

DNA chips would be made of silicon. A person's DNA, from blood or skin, would be fixed on to the surface for reading.