‘Designer baby’ issues to be examined

NZ Law Society 24 October 2014
Genetic testing is one of the fastest evolving fields of modern medical science – and it poses some of the most complex ethical and legal challenges.

It is now possible to test human embryos for a range of traits other than abnormalities. The prospect of “designer babies” looms – so it makes sense to anticipate the issues involved, to be better prepared for the coming reality.

The recently reported New Zealand “saviour sibling” case highlights the issues. A New Zealand woman is now pregnant with a baby chosen from other IVF embryos for its genetic makeup, to try to save the life of its older sibling who has sickle cell anaemia. Critics have denounced the process of embryo selection as morally wrong, “playing God” and a slippery slope towards treating children as commodities.

These issues are not easily understood and highly emotive, so it is important to have well-researched information and a sound debate so New Zealand society can determine the right way forward.

That’s why the Law Foundation is funding an important new study analysing the legal, ethical and social issues around human pre-implantation genetic testing.

Principal Researcher Dr Jeanne Snelling, of the Otago University Bioethics Centre, says whole genome analysis (WGA) is already being used to identify genetic contributors to complex diseases like cancer and neuro-psychiatric disorders.

The research team aims to report its findings in early 2016. Their work builds on the important body of human genome research previously supported by the Law Foundation.

You can read more about this research and other important Law Foundation research projects by browsing through the “Success Stories” section of our website: www.lawfoundation.org.nz.
Lynda Hagen is the Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation.

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