- British scientists are developing a technique to weed
out embryos at high risk of developing cancer.
- The technique involves the genetic screening of embryos
before they are implanted in the womb using in vitro fertilisation (IVF)
- The development is to be evaluated by the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Authority, but moves to weed out "unacceptable"
embryos have been described as the "Nazification" of medicine
by a leading expert on medical ethics.
- Joy Delhanty, professor of Human Genetics at University
College Medical School, is among those working on the new technique, which
has been successfully tested on one family with a high risk of producing
children susceptible to colon cancer. It is now being perfected to test
for other types of the disease.
- Professor Delhanty said: "We are dealing with families
where there is a very high risk of cancer due to the inheritance of a faulty
- "This means that if the parent has this gene then
each child has got a one in two chance of inheriting that gene and therefore
developing the cancer during their lifetime.
- "What we are aiming to do is to give these parents
the option of starting a pregnancy knowing it will not have that faulty
- The technique involves testing one or two cells from
a three-day-old embryo before it is implanted in a mother's womb.
- The embryo is then only implanted if the tests show that
the it is not carrying the faulty gene.
- Scientists originally developed the technique at the
beginning of the 1990s to test for a risk of cystic fibrosis.
- Professor Delhanty said: "In principle it could
be applied to any condition where the genetic basis is well understood,
and where it is simple."
- Ethical difficulties
- Dr Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical
Ethics, warned that the technique was fraught with ethical difficulties.
- He said: "We are now moving rapidly into an age
of are saying there are lives that are not worth living, and we either
prevent them by abortion if they are discovered ante-natally, or we now
are moving into the hi-tech way of pre-conceptional prevention.
- "People hate to talk about Nazification of medicine,
but this is actually what is happening. It took only 25 years in Germany
to go from individual doctors saying there are certain lives not worth
living, to having mass euthanasia programmes.
- "We have got to look very carefully to the way we
are gradually progressing to preventing people with disease, rather than
- Ruth Deech, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Authority, said the authority was working on new guidelines for screening
techniques, and would hold a public consultation exercise later in the
- She said: " We are only too well aware of the sort
of dangers that have been described, which is why we inch forward very
carefully indeed with counselling for parents."