A fertility clinic in Australia has been given permission by local authorities to perform sex-selection of human embryos for families at a “high risk” of having an autistic child. Such testing could lead to abortions of unborn babies who testing show may have the genetic makeup that would include autism.
While there is no genetic test that specifically can isolate autism in unborn children, the screening is a sex-selection process because boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls. According to a report in the Australian newspaper, the test will be done on pre-implantation embryos — presumably created via in-vitro fertilization. So-called high risk human embryos would be those human beings whose parents have two or more boys with “severe autism.”
Although the article specifically says the testing will be done in a way that would not involve abortions, that is still a concern.
But the testing, skeptics say, will further lead to a culture of eugenics that already sees babies with conditions like Down Syndrome be victimized by abortion when diagnosed before birth. While such testing may be limited to human beings created in a fertility clinic, how long before such testing leads prospective parents to have an abortion if the testing can be done during pregnancy?
The Reproductive Technology Council approved the application for a fertility clinic to do a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, to screen for autism.
It is a new frontier in embryo screening because, unlike other conditions with a distinct genetic basis, autism is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
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Though most Australian health authorities, including the RTC, consider applications case by case, Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is weighing up whether to allow autism screening.
The Weekend West believes only families at high risk of having a child with autism, such as families who already have two boys with severe autism, would be considered for embryo screening.
It differs from prenatal testing of babies in the womb, which checks for conditions such as Down syndrome and can result in parents opting for a termination.