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Designer Myths: The Science, Law and Ethics of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis
  1. Dr Anneke Lucassen, Consultant/Senior Lecturer
  1. Clinical Genetics, The Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton

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    Kay Chung, London, Progress Educational Trust, 1999, 23 pages, £5.00.

    This booklet is the first in a series of publications called Briefings in Bioethics by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) charity. Funding from the Department of Health has facilitated the series, which aims to cover a range of ethical issues in biomedicine. Designer Myths is written by the trust's communications officer, Kay Chung, and examines the scientific, legal and ethical issues arising from preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

    With advances in the ability to test for a growing number of specific genetic diagnoses and developments of new reproductive technologies, PGD (whilst still technically difficult) is now a real possibility for some families who previously had to rely on fate or forgo having children. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis allows testing of the fertilised egg for specific genetic diagnoses, so that only unaffected fetuses are implanted and prenatal diagnosis can be avoided.

    The bulk of the 23-page booklet discusses the science and technical aspects of PGD, including details of the treatment cycle and current success rates. The law regarding PGD is discussed mainly in the context of UK law, but the situation in the rest of the world is also covered. The ethics of PGD are covered in three sections. The status of the human embryo section lays out the ethical difficulties that those who believe that life begins with fertilisation have with PGD.

    The belief of some that PGD constitutes a form of eugenics is examined and counterargued with the availability of abortion in general and with the fact that PGD will only ever be an option in a small percentage of all congenital abnormalities. The fear that such technologies will spin out of control is explored in the slippery slope section. Such worries are largely dismissed on the basis that there are currently too many technical and practical obstacles for the “designer baby” to become a reality. The booklet ends with a discussion of current policy issues and makes some practical recommendations on future policy and funding issues.

    The booklet offers a concise and clearly laid out discussion of the practical, scientific, ethical and social aspects of PGD. It is aimed at both professionals and lay people and I would imagine that the latter especially would find this an informative, easy to read publication. In 23 pages, in-depth ethical arguments are clearly not possible but most of the arguments and counterarguments for PGD are aired. Since PET is an organisation which “promotes the benefits of reproductive and genetic technologies”, the monograph does clearly have a conclusion in favour of PGD but it is not biased.