British Researchers Can Use Embryo Screening to Create "Designer Babies"

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 2, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Researchers Can Use Embryo Screening to Create "Designer Babies" Email this article
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by Maria Vitale Gallagher Staff Writer
November 2, 2004

London, England ( — Researchers in the United Kingdom have received the go-ahead to create cancer-free "designer babies." The British government’s fertility watchdog agency is allowing a London clinic to screen embryos created by in vitro fertilization for genes that might lead to cancer.

Four couples affected by bowel cancer are expected to start the procedure by year’s end.

One of the patients, an accountant for Bristol, hailed the decision, saying it will prevent cancer from being passed on to subsequent generations.

But others are sharply criticizing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for trying to play God by killing human embryos that have a cancer gene. Critics note that there is a possibility that these unborn children would never develop cancer if they were permitted to be born.

One woman who carries the bowel cancer gene told the British press she was glad to have the information about her own genetic predisposition to cancer, but that she would not have wanted her daughter tested before birth.

Scientific experts say if a parent carries the cancer gene, there’s a 50 percent chance it will be passed onto his or her children.

Opponents fear the cancer screening could lead to widespread genetic screening for a host of other illnesses.

Fertility clinics in Britain currently screen IVF embryos for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.

Josephine Quintavalle of the pro-life Comment on Reproductive Ethics responded to the Authority’s latest decision by saying, "We are not thinking about curing the disease, but about eliminating the carrier. It is pretty shoddy medicine."

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has also been vocal in its opposition to so-called “designer babies.”

SPUC spokesman Paul Tully said in July, "The designer baby may be allowed his or her right to live, but that same right will be denied to his embryonic brothers and sisters. These unwanted embryonic siblings could be flushed down the sink, frozen or used for experiments.

"Although one should do everything that is ethical to relieve illness and pain, it cannot be right to destroy human life like this. This unethical procedure undermines any benefit which could come from it," Tully added.

Related web sites:
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children –