Eeny Meeny Miny Embryo: Testing Eggs Before Conception

Did you know we can now test embryos before conception?

Word comes from University College London that a baby was just born in the U.K. who was tested before conception for the BRAC1 gene. Or should I say, tested and then selected for IVF because she (?) did not carry the breast cancer gene. If "she" can be used for the unfertilized embryo that would become the baby girl.

Doctors say they've prevented one more case of a dreadful disease. But William Saletan at sees a slippery slope:

We now call such tests "preconception." This is the next step in our gradual devaluation of embryos. First, we said IVF embryos weren't pregnancies. That's technically correct: Pregnancy begins when the embryo implants in the womb. Then we called early embryos "pre-embryos" so we could dismantle them to get stem cells. That was technically incorrect, but we did it because it made us feel better. Now we're adjusting the word conception. Henceforth, testing of IVF embryos to decide which will live or die is preconception. Don't fret about the six eggs we fertilized, rejected, and flushed in selecting this baby. They were never really conceived. In fact, they weren't embryos. According to Serhal (the researcher), each was just "an affected cluster of cells."

Them's pretty much fighting words in the scientific community if not the larger parenting crowd. I'm a moral relativist so I'll the question. We have the means to test for BRAC1 and other genes. Out of the 11 eggs harvested from the mother of the baby girl, 6 had the gene, more than half. Gene carriers have a 50 to 85% of contracting breast cancer. So, is it more ethical, knowing there's a test and knowing the odds, to blindly leave it to chance? Leave your child's future health to chance? Even if you could do something to prevent horrible disease?

As a parent, I don't know if I could risk it if I knew I had the gene. Ah, but there's the rub. I'm an adopted child myself with no family medical histories, no idea what lies in my genetic inheritance and yet, I did risk it. My husband and I conceived the old-fashioned way. And I'd considered us lucky not to experience infertility, especially the emotional and financial pressures of infertility. But maybe we were being irresponsible...

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