New row looms over embryo screening

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Embryo screening should be extended to cover genes that may cause diseases but are not certain to do so, the regulatory body for fertility treatment has recommended.

The policy would allow women who carry mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, to screen out embryos created by IVF that have the same mutated genes before they are implanted in the womb.

Cancer and fertility experts welcomed the recommendation, saying it would give couples with a family history of cancer some "control" over the health of their future children. But pro-life campaigners fiercely oppose the policy, saying it smacks of eugenics.

Use of the technique, called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), has so far been limited to conditions such as cystic fibrosis, where it is known that an embryo with a certain genetic make-up will develop the condition. The ethics committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has concluded that PGD should be allowed for women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can cause breast and ovarian cancer, and also for a type of colon cancer. The full board of the HFEA is due to vote on the recommendation tomorrow.

The move is controversial as the mutated genes are not certain to cause diseases; they occur in later life rather than in childhood; and they are treatable.

Dr Jess Buxton, of the Progress Educational Trust said: "Embryo testing would offer a way for some parents to cut the chances of children having to endure this illness or its treatment."