The Times of London reports,
PEOPLE with an inherited cancer that is almost always treatable have won the right to select embryos lacking the gene that can trigger the disease.
[Note that "selecting" embryos actually means killing embryos until one without the gene arises.]
Four couples affected by retinoblastoma, a rare childhood eye tumour, will start the screening procedure within weeks after a London clinic was granted a licence by the Government’s fertility watchdog.
The ruling breaks new ethical ground in the debate on “designer babies”, because retinoblastoma is rarely fatal, 95 per cent of cases are successfully treated, and only 90 per cent of those with the defective gene develop the disease.
Embryo screening has so far been permitted to prevent only conditions such as cystic fibrosis that are incurable or difficult to treat, and which always strike people with faulty genes.
The decision caused further controversy as it came days after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) began a consultation about approving the technique for a wider range of disease genes. Embryo rights campaigners accused the watchdog of disdain for the public’s views, and called for a moratorium on new licences until the consultation is complete.
The retinoblastoma test, they said, would lead to the destruction of embryos that might be perfectly healthy, and others with a high chance of a normal life once their cancer has been treated. Doctors and patient groups, however, welcomed the decision, pointing out that women are already allowed to screen for retinoblastoma 11 weeks into pregnancy and abort affected foetuses.