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PGD: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

PGD: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


For some, the technology conjures images from Gattaca or Michael Crichton's Next. But proponents of PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) base their support on the premise that PGD can help couples realize their dream of having a healthy baby. Developed in the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s, PGD is performed on embryos produced via IVF (in vitro fertilization) to screen them for genetic disorders. A single cell is taken from each embryo that has been fertilized in vitro. After the cells are analyzed, the embryos that are deemed healthy candidates are then transferred to their mother's uterus. Despite the arguably noble intentions of the scientists who developed PGD, a complex bioethical debate surrounding use of the technology continues to churn.

Saving Lives

When he was a mere eight weeks old, Angelo James Magliocco died from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare genetic disease that affects the neurons controlling the voluntary muscles. Babies with SMA that do manage to survive often never acquire the ability to move their limbs. Swallowing and respiratory functions are often also compromised. To ensure that the birth of their next child would not end in tragedy, the parents of baby Angelo turned to PGD.

Most parents would agree that there is nothing they wouldn't do to give their children the best chance at having a healthy, happy life. With PGD, parents who are carriers of a genetic disorder may have the opportunity to have a child without the fear of passing on a debilitating if not life-threatening disease.

Dr. James A. Grifo, director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at New York University Medical Center, expressed during an interview with PBS the joy he feels when he is able to help a couple who is trying to prevent their own possible tragedy. A passionate advocate for PGD, he explains that the process eliminates the decision parents must make when they are confronted with the possibility that their unborn child has a serious genetic disorder. With PGD, the heart rending choice whether to terminate or not to terminate the pregnancy is eliminated.

Or Sacrificing Them?

While many who choose PGD do so in an attempt to protect their progeny from developing a harmful or even fatal illness, some critics are quick to stress that PGD does not actually help the individual embryo. They point out that the process merely weeds out the ones that show evidence of genetic mutation. One of the pro-life groups that adhere to this idea is LIFE, an organization based in the United Kingdom. What's more, the members of LIFE believe that PGD disrespects human life and is, essentially, a form of discrimination.

In the fight against inequity and intolerance, some disabled rights groups feel that PGD may frustrate their efforts to promote equality and understanding. Bill Albert voiced the frustrations of those he represents in the disability movement in Europe during an EU conference. By screening and eliminating embryos that are genetically unacceptable, Albert asserts, we are enforcing ideals of "normalcy," further alienating a group of people that already struggle against exclusion.

Others are concerned whether this technology will provide a gateway of acceptability for future technologies that may be used to create “designer babies.” Will selecting for implantation only embryos that are not affected by a genetic disorder progress to weeding out those that do not meet a certain aesthetic standard?

Understand Before Taking a Stand

Those who are not necessarily against the use of PGD but are nevertheless concerned about its ethical implications include Linda MacDonald Glenn. Attorney, bioethicist, author, educator, and lecturer, Glenn actively promotes the awareness of bioethical issues. Her recent interview with Emily Clemens of the Women's Bioethics Project encourages people to educate themselves about the issues surrounding PGD in order to make informed choices.

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