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Moral theologian speaks out agains discarding embryos

Melbourne moral theologian Fr Norman Ford has spoken out against a radical 'pick-a-baby' program that has been 'credited' with the births of eight 'perfect' babies this year.

Couples with a family history of any of at least 30 diseases can now give their future child the best chance at life by screening embryos for the genetic defect.

Salesian Fr Ford, director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, said it is wrong to leave the defective embryos to die. But he had less problem with simply screening embryos.

"My objections really are to the discarding and elimination of (defective) embryos, not to the screening of embryos for defects," he said.

The technique combines IVF with embryo selection to weed out those with signs of the diseases. Tests for deafness, dwarfism, Alzheimer's disease and various ovarian, bowel, brain, bone and soft tissue cancers are all now possible.

The first Victorian child conceived with the technology, Georgie, just celebrated her first birthday. As a three-day-old embryo, Georgie was screened for cystic fibrosis, a deadly chest disease.

Catholic medical ethicist Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini said using the technique to screen for diseases which would not appear until later in life, if at all, was wrong, and possibly illegal.

"It extends it way beyond what was intended because it's not to avoid disease, it's to avoid the genetic propensity for the disease."


Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics

27 Sep 2002