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Is there an ethical difference between preimplantation genetic diagnosis and abortion?
  1. C Cameron,
  2. R Williamson
  1. Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, University of Melbourne, Royal Children’s Hospital, Parkville, Melbourne, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor B Williamson, University of Melbourne, Royal Children’s Hospital, Parkville, Melbourne 3052 Australia;


When a person at risk of having a child with a genetic illness or disease wishes to have an unaffected child, this can involve difficult choices. If the pregnancy is established by sexual intercourse, the fetus can be tested early in pregnancy, and if affected a decision can be made to abort in the hope that a future pregnancy with an unaffected fetus ensures. Alternatively, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can be used after in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to select and implant an unaffected embryo that hopefully will proceed to term and produce a healthy baby. We are aware that many individuals at risk regard the latter as ethically more acceptable than the former, and examine whether there is an ethical difference between these options. We conclude that PGD and implantation of an unaffected embryo is a more acceptable choice ethically than prenatal diagnosis (PND) followed by abortion for the following reasons:

  1. Choice after PGD is seen as ethically neutral because a positive result (“a healthy pregnancy”) balances a negative result (“the destruction of the affected embryo”) simultaneously (assuming the pregnancy proceeds to full term and a healthy baby is born). While there is usually the intention to establish a healthy pregnancy after an abortion, this is not simultaneous;

  2. A woman sees abortion as a personal physical violation of her integrity, and as the pregnancy proceeds she increasingly identifies with and gives ethical status to the embryo/fetus as it develops in utero and not in the laboratory;

  3. Many people see aborting a fetus as “killing”, whereas in the case of PGD the spare embryos are “allowed to die”. We argue that this difference of opinion gives further weight to our conclusion, but note that this has been addressed and debated at length by others.

  • preimplantation genetic diagnosis
  • abortion

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