A Child Against All Odds is a six-part BBC series on different aspects of IVF presented by fertility expert and well-known TV personality Robert Winston. The first episode, Choosing Children (BBC1, 14th November 2006, TRILT code: 005D7759), focuses on three British couples undergoing Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) in order to check the genetic make-up of their embryo(s) prior to transfer into the uterus.
Gill and Ian are both carriers for a severe form of Gaucher’s disease, a neurological condition which led to the death of a previous child Ellie during infancy. Glenn and Andrea have four sons, but would love to have a daughter. Sex selection of this kind, for non-medical reasons, is currently prohibited in the UK and so Glenn and Andrea join the growing number of people who engage in “fertility tourism” and travel to Cyprus for the procedure. Pete and Sarah have a severely handicapped daughter Maizie as a consequence of a chromosome translocation. They are now embarking on screening to try and avoid having an embryo with the same problems.
As their stories unfold, all three couples reach a point at which they are able to have a screened embryo transferred to the uterus but, at the end of the day, only Gill and Ian achieve a successful pregnancy resulting in the birth of a new son. Interestingly, they know from the PGD that although he will not suffer from Gaucher’s disease himself, he does retain one copy of the faulty gene and as such is a carrier for the condition (none of the embryos had two good copies, which would have been the perfect outcome).
This fascinating programme (58 minutes) is an excellent insight into the world of modern fertility medicine. The episode involves frequent cutting between the three stories, which makes it difficult to recommend particular clips, and in some ways the programme needs to be seen in its entirety in order to get a feel not only for the science but also the emotional turmoil felt by all of the couples. Having said that, the technicalities of PGD are nicely demonstrated in a section from 21:45 to 24:13 and the difficulty of tracing one “spelling mistake” in one gene is shown in 26:36 to 27:12. The series is supported by an excellent website which offers background information and links to other relevant sites. For BioethicsBytes notes on the next episode, Ice babies, follow this link.