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(Familial Adenomatous Polyposis)

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Should human embryos be screened for genetic defects? Page 3

Stephanie Zinser investigates this morally thorny issue.

No doubt there must be some people out there who know what it feels like, and who still maintain a staunch position against screening and genetic selection of embryos. That is their right. They may argue that we're not eliminating a disease, per se, but a whole person-and that medicine would be better off focussing on curing the disease rather than eliminating the people that carry them. When put in such terms, it almost carries the same unpleasant whiff mat was used to justify ethnic cleansing. And put in those terms, they score a point.

But say you have decided in favour of embryo selection. Is this the end of all your troubles? Perhaps not. IVF has come a long way in terms of success rates, since its own conception 35 years ago, but it's not a procedure that is either pain-free or guaranteed. You don't always become pregnant during a course of IVF treatment the average couple needs three rounds of IVF before producing a baby-and it's expensive, around £3,000 per cycle. In the case of genetic screening for FAP, approximately half of a couple's embryos will be screened out, reducing the odds for success still further. There are risks associated with fertility drugs, such as ovarian hyperstimulation, and also the possibility of an increased risk of ovarian or breast cancer in later life. IVF pregnancies are more likely to result in premature births, with an additional increased risk of congenital abnormalities like heart defects or cerebral palsy.

However, even the increased risks associated with IVF are in reality very small-and most would say irrelevant-in relation to those that already face a family with a known and serious problem like FAP.

In the end, the debate does not rage because of science, or the lack of it. The debate rages because of the visceral and deeply-seated views of humanity and life that lie at me core. The real nub of the problem is that the arguments both for and against are extremely emotive.

The sheer pain of watching your child being diagnosed with a crippling illness is emotive. Holding your child's hand as they lie helplessly in Intensive Care, wrapped in a cold forest of tubes and drips is emotive. Helping them try to thread their lives together after major surgery is emotive. Watching them undergo surgery after surgery with no guarantee of a cure is emotive. Burying a beloved child who has suffered years of needless and undeserved pain is emotive. Indeed, it is torture.

But then, take a look at one of your children today and imagine-for an instant-that they didn't exist because you had screened them out before they had a chance. You would never have seen the twinkle in their little eyes when they were excited, never have felt their warm, spontaneous cuddles, never felt their soft breath on your cheek, nor heard the soft chime of their voice in your ear. This too is emotive. Imagine that you'd never have seen them on their first day at school, nervous and out of place in their new, too-big school uniform.

Pretend that you'd never have sat in the audience, wiping away a tear as you watched them mumble their lines in their first school play. Imagine that you'd never given the loving face that smiles at you as you kiss them goodnight the chance to exist, that you had decided they shouldn't live.

Isn't this also emotive?

The fact that the HFEA has offered people a choice is no crime and shouldn't even be up for debate. Nobody is forcing anyone to screen their embryos for defects, nor forcing them to terminate a life. People who wish to let nature take its course are still entitled to do just that, and those that wish to prevent a terrible disease in their future children are now also being given a chance.

The decision to approve screening for FAP should be welcomed, and while all views are valid, it's time to accept that we all have a choice, and will all exercise it differently.

For embryo testing

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