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Embryo report calls for changes

Published: 6:54PM Tuesday August 01, 2006 Source: One News

A report into New Zealand's management of so-called designer babies has been released in parliament and recommends changes to the way parents can choose embryos for invitrofertilisation.

The law controlling how doctors handle the issue has been under the microscope at Otago University where researchers say they have found some inconsistencies.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, involves testing an embryo that has been created outside the mother for genetic disorders. It is then implanted if it is cleared of disorders.

The Law Foundation report has been compiled with the help of Maori, scientific and ethical researchers as well as legal experts and follows the decision to publicly fund PGD this year to the tune of $500,000.

Suggested changes include allowing for sex selection on compassionate grounds. Currently parents cannot choose the gender of their embryo unless it is for medical reasons but the researchers say the legislation should be more flexible.

In another turnaround the report suggests all embryos regardless of impairment should be available. At present only disorder-free embryos can be implanted for pregnancy.

Principal investigator Mark Henaghan says they also have concerns over rules around "saviour siblings" who can only be created when there is a genetic disorder within the family. He says this appears to treat sick children within the family differently.

But others say the law is already treading on dangerous ground. IHC's director of advocacy, Trish Grant, says their position is that all lives have value and to go down a path of creating perfect children "very much devalues the lives of those children who are living with a disability".

It is now up to the government to decide if New Zealand's law on PGD will be amended.

Henaghan fears that if the country falls too far behind we may not encourage scientific research in the area, which could lead to "genetic tourism where people who can afford it go to other countries".

Researchers say PGD is not about designing perfect babies it instead focuses on healthy children. They say it is time the law recognised that the use of genetic screening does more good than harm.