Pre-natal Genetic Testing, Medically Assisted Procreation, and the Government

Through developments in genetic technology in the past few decades, it is now possible for couples who previously may never have been able to have children to now become pregnant through the use of in-vitro fertilization or IVF. Through this method, an egg cell taken from a mother is inseminated in a lab and then implanted back into the woman’s uterus. There are a number of reasons that parents may wish to use this technique to have children. The first would be the obvious reason that they would be otherwise unable to have children due to sterility. In this case, donated eggs or sperm can be used. Another reason that parents may wish to use IVF is in the case of a disease that they do not wish to spread to the children. IVF is often the only way to avoid the transmission of the disease from parent to child. A final reason that IVF might be used is so that the embryo could be screened for potential genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome or Huntington’s disease. Overall, these reasons sound pretty legitimate right?

Well, when it comes to the government and regulating this process for the protection of the parents and the embryo, consensus seems to be split. On one hand, the public tends to agree that a process like this should be used only when absolutely necessary (i.e. a couple that is sterile), and that any procedure that has the risk of harming or destroying an embryo should be outright banned. On the other hand, scientists and doctors tend to have more liberal beliefs when it comes to regulation. In their article “A Law Affecting Medically Assisted Procreation Is on the Way in Switzerland,” M. Germond and A. Senn seem to disagree with the way that the government and the people want to regulate the process. When referring to a law being made in Switzerland, which restricts IVF to only those who cannot otherwise conceive children or those with a serious communicable disease among other restrictions, Germond and Senn call the law “restrictive”, “extreme”, and “contrary to the patients’ interest.” They argue that patients deserve the right to be able to test their child for any possible genetic defects, that egg donation be allowed, and that the loosely defined legal term “embryo” not be given the same rights as the patients.

On the other side of the debate is the public. According to the same article, the same law that Germond, Senn, and the scientific community disagree with was approved by popular vote in Switzerland with a 73.9% majority. Switzerland is not the only country that has passed popular laws for the “protection of the embryo.” Italy recently came under fire from the international community for its laws restricting the same procedures. One can assume that such a law was also popular in their country as well. However due to a couple complaining of discrimination, the Italian law is being declared inapplicable. The link to Helen Bannigan’s article explaining the situation can be found below. According to the article, the Parliament passed the law because it “considers life (starting from the instance of conception) sacred; and thus considers wrong any kind of intervention”

So basically what we have here is both sides of the aisle arguing that their side is safer for everyone involved. The scientists argue that the embryos do not yet represent life and therefore have no legal entity. They think that it is in the best interest for the parents that they know as much about their child as possible (through pre-implantation testing) and that they be able to go through IVF regardless of their medical status. On the other side of the fence, the governments and the public are saying that the embryo is a living being which is entitled to protection. The public does not typically want the parents to subject the embryo to possibly intrusive testing, or to undergo IVF for their own sake rather than medical necessity. Where these people stand pretty much boils down to whether they think that embryos are alive or not. So this raises the question, who should have more legal entity, the parents or the unborn?

A Law Affecting Medically Assisted Procreation Is on the Way in Switzerland: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3455772/pdf/10815_2004_Article_409024.pdf

Italy Forced to Pass New Laws on Genetic Testing of Embryos and In Vitro Fertilization: http://www.escapefromamerica.com/2013/08/italy-forced-to-pass-new-laws-on-genetic-testing-of-embryos-and-in-vitro-fertilization/

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