The edition of The Daily Politics Show broadcast on BBC2 on February 3rd 2009 contained an item on the use of embryo screening during IVF (see 00:15:42 to 00:22:25). The section begins with a short explanatory VT, which covers the technique of prenatal genetic diagnosis – PGD – and its uses in IVF, and some of the main ethical positions. The programme’s hosts – Andew Neil and Sangita Myska – then discuss the ethical implications of genetic screening and embryo selection with Professor Robert Winston. This short post summaries the main bioethical arguments put forward in this 7 minute clip, and suggests how it may be used in teaching.
The discussion beings by noting the recent use of PGD to select embryos free from one of the genetic mutations responsible for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (see “Birth of first British baby to be genetically screened for breast cancer“, Times Online, January 9th 2009). Following that, Myska poses the question “should we be… more wary of genetic screening?” (00:16:11). Perhaps predictably, Prof. Winston believes that, used responsibly and according to HFEA guidelines, there is little cause for concern. However, in outlining his view he does refer to ethical counterarguments, some of which are also articulated by the presenters and the interviewees featured in the VT (including Dr. David King, of Human Genetics Alert). The main positions offered here can be summarised by the following quotes:
Arguments for increased use of PGD & genetic screening:
- The HFEA “provides an adequate safeguard” (Ann Alexander, 00:18:01) against misuse.
- In cases like BRCA1 and BRCA2 “we are not really in a eugenic pursuit, we are simply making the risk normal ” (Prof. Robert Winston, 00:19:27)
- “pre-implementation genetic diagnosis is always going be a relatively rare technique, and it will mainly be used for single gene disorders” (Prof. Robert Winston, 00:19:53).
- PGD is “looking for one specific characteristic, so you are not looking for a perfect baby – the rest is random” (Prof. Robert Winston, 00:20:47).
- PGD enables “people…to start on a pregnacy from the beginning knowing that they are free from the defect that they’ve watched another child die from” (Prof. Robert Winston, 00:20:54)
Arguments for increased caution about the use of PGD & genetic screening:
- PGD as “a continuation of the eugenics of the first part of the twentieth century” (Dr David King, 00:17:39).
- “peoples fears are that the pressure will always be to loosen up the regulation, to extend this genetic testing until it covers more and more genetic disorders ” (Andrew Neil, 00:18:39).
- “this is a search and kill mechanism…a mechanism that will lead to only babies being born who are regarded as perfect in their genetic make-up” (Andrew Neil, 00:20:35)
- “What about these deaf parents though? Who wanted an embryo selected where the child, their child, would be likely to be deaf?” (Andrew Neil, 00:21: 11)
Overall, this clip would be well suited for classroom use: it offers a concise and well illustrated summary of PGD and the use of genetic screening within IVF, and consideration of the ethical arguments for and against the extension of it use to all genetic conditions. My only concern with this clip is that it is perhaps a little one sided given that Prof. Winston, a well known scientist, clinician and supporter of these techniques, is the only expert interviewed. For this reason this clip may be best used alongside some of the other resources recommended in BioethicBytes posts concerning PGD.
This edition of The Daily Politics Show was first broadcast on BBC2 on February 3rd 2009, at 12.00pm. Members of the BUFVC can obtain copies via TRILT (TRILT identifier: 00DA86F3).