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Gene tests for IVF embryos legalised

The Local · 7 Jul 2011, 16:25

Published: 07 Jul 2011 16:25 GMT+02:00

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Within limits, couples will be allowed to have embryos meant for IVF implantation tested. Only healthy embryos would be implanted, while embryos carrying genes that cause disease or disability would be discarded.

After a lengthy and at times emotional debate, the Bundestag voted in favour of the law, which will set strict limits on the technique. Only couples who themselves carry genes that cause or predispose to serious illnesses will be allowed to use the practice and each case will be vetted by an ethics panel to prevent a first step towards so-called “designer babies.”

Some 326 MPs across all parties voted in favour of the move and 260 against it, with eight abstentions. All parties gave their MPs a free conscience vote on the morally contentious issue.

They were given the option of voting for a total ban, a ban with exceptions, or a limited legalisation.

In so-called preimplantation diagnostics (PID), a test is carried out at a very early stage on an IVF embryo before it is implanted in the woman’s womb. Only healthy embryos are then implanted, while those carrying genes known to cause disease or disability are discarded. The practice is controversial among many social conservatives and church followers because it means it involves actively selecting which embryo can become a fully-fledged person and which cannot.

Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, her party colleague Peter Hintze and Free Democrats health expert Ulrike Flach were among the prominent politicians pushing for the legalisation.

The question of conscience should be left up to parents, many of whom were afflicted by the frustrated desire for children, von der Leyen.

Hintze said the technique helped prevent medically necessary abortions and still births. To ban such a technique in a country that permits abortion made no sense, he said.

It is already legal – and common practice – to carry out diagnostic tests on an embryo in a woman’s womb.

Flach spoke out against opponents’ claims that the law would open a floodgate or take the country down a slippery slope towards so-called “designer babies” in which parents pick and choose traits down to gender and eye colour. The law would only be used in a few hundred cases, each of which would be carefully assessed by an ethics commission, she said.

Prominent politicians opposing the law also cut across party lines and included CDU parliamentary leader Volker Kauder, centre-left Social Democrat Andrea Nahles and socialist Left MPs Ilja Seifert and Kathrin Vogel.

Wolfgang Zöller of the Bavarian Christian Social Union said the “right to life must not be brought into question” and the state’s duty to protect people with disabilities must not be eroded.

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“Today is about the ethics of life,” he said.

When a man’s sperm fused with a woman’s egg, the “life process is set in motion,” he said.

The debate over PID was sparked by a federal court decision last year in which a doctor was acquitted of charges arising from his use of PID on the embryos of three couples using IVF. The doctor had orchestrated the charges against himself in order to have the issue tested by a court.

DAPD/The Local/djw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:48 July 7, 2011 by german-guardian
This is a very common procedure in every country in the world. Basically a lot of couples who have to undergo invitro fertilization are themselves are at a risk of being genetic defect carriers. The reason they can not have children a normal way and they have to undergo invitro fertilization, is mainly because many of them being recesive carriers of gene disorders. So when the doctor takes out the females egg and fuses it with male sperm in a test tube he has to make sure that the embryo is not genetically defective. If the embryo is genetically defective, it may undergo abortion automatically, or it could be so severly damgaged that the child might not survive long after birth.
21:54 July 7, 2011 by Staticjumper
@German-Guardian My wife and I have been through two IVF cycles. I¦#39;m not sure where you¦#39;re getting your information about infertility but you might want to do a little more research. Genetic disorder related infertility is actually quite rare. In most cases it¦#39;s a transportation issue. Either the male can¦#39;t produce or transport enough sperm due to injury, disease or even lifestyle, or the woman can¦#39;t produce or transport enough eggs due to ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids or as in our case, endometriosis. And a primary motive for PGD is the age of the woman. With more women delaying motherhood (spending their 20¦#39;s and 30¦#39;s building their careers, etc) the risk of genetic defects increase. That said, PGD, especially the FISH method, needs to be CLEARLY explained to the patients as it was to us. FISH has a notoriously high false positive rate (identifying embryos as defective when they¦#39;re actually healthy) because of what is called mosaicism. During our first cycle (miscarriage at 20 weeks due to infection) PGD identified several embryos as defective. After changing doctors we learned about the high fallibility of FISH and the probability that several embryos identified as defective and destroyed were most likely healthy. In our current cycle (2 months pregnant) we have not done PGD and had even better results than the first cycle. We will, however, have a nuchal scan done at 12 weeks.
02:06 July 8, 2011 by vonSchwerin
This is where religious conservatives lose me.

"It is already legal ­ and common practice ­ to carry out diagnostic tests on an embryo in a woman¦#39;s womb."

If it's already legal to conduct such tests on an actual fetus in womb, why wouldn't it be okay to do the test on a bunch of cells in a petri dish? Wouldn't conservatives want to obviate abortions? And if couples can't test the cells but can (and do) test the embryo, they might choose to have an abortion. Testing the cells makes sure that it never gets to that point.
08:52 July 8, 2011 by delvek
I have three children and for all three we chose to not have any test done that we inform us of the possibility of birth defects. Why bother ...

The term religious conservatives is hilarious, so because I see inception as a living being forming inside a woman womb as a LIVING BEING I am a religious conservative ... okay, whatever.

This is where uneducated liberals lose me.
16:28 July 8, 2011 by Englishted

First may I wish you good luck .

As to german-guardian forget about him ,he knows nothing as you will see if you keep reading the comments in the local.
03:25 July 9, 2011 by quenty2010
First a big Thank you to Dr .Mathias Bloechle...

German-guardian u have no idea what are u talking about... 1 in 500 people has balanced translocation of chromoses and they only find out when they try to have children...My fiance has a balanced translocation of a chromosome 5 and 14...i have suffered 2 misscariages one at 2,5 months and the second one at 3,5 months...the foetus had a duplication of chromosome 5...this procedure will help people like me and my fiancee to have a baby with balanced or normal set of chromosomes...
17:00 July 14, 2011 by vonSchwerin
If a person's conservative political views are shaped by religious values, then he is a "religious conservative." That's simply a fact.


"I have three children and for all three we chose to not have any test done that we inform us of the possibility of birth defects. Why bother ... "

Good for you. That was YOUR choice. But not everyone makes that choice. Some people want to have more options available to them. And no one here is attacking or criticizing you for your decision. No reason to get so defensive!

"uneducated liberals lose me."

Why the insults? "uneducated"? I have a doctorate in philosophy. And liberalism has nothing to do with it.

It's actually an issue of imbalanced legislation or imbalanced logic. Why are selective abortions allowed on real fetuses, but selective IVF of unimplanted cells were not?
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