Polar Body Testing a more ethical option

Doctors concerned with recent proposal to introduce PGD: Polar Body Testing a more ethical option

Doctors for Life firmly states that at the point of fertilisation, a new human life has begun whether this happens naturally or in IVF. This is a scientific and biological fact and not a matter of opinion.

A human embryo is not just a ‘clump of cells’, but a living, complete organism. It is a human being at an early stage of its development and as such needs to be treated with due respect and dignity. A bias that attributes value to a human life according to functions, faculties, size or appearance has no place in a society that seeks to eliminate discrimination amongst human beings.

An ethical position that respects nascent life does not derive from some silly emotional humanisation of a ‘few cells’ but from the plain facts stripped of every bias or agenda. Just because an embryo doesn’t look like a baby does not diminish its humanity or uniqueness and any attempts at dehumanisation are both misleading and superficial.

We are deeply concerned by the recent government proposal to introduce PGD or ‘Prenatal Genetic Diagnosis’. This involves testing an early embryo to screen for certain genetic diseases. The embryos found to carry these conditions are generally put aside and those that do not are implanted during IVF. In many countries these embryos are simply discarded or thrown away. In Malta they are proposing to freeze them indefinitely. Any notions of adoption are misleading.

Against our recommendations, the members of the house in the previous legislature voted to introduce embryo freezing. Since then, not a single one of the 388 frozen, “normal” embryos has been adopted so far. The notion that these “genetically abnormal”, discarded embryos will be adopted is ludicrous. The public should not be misled. These embryos will be left permanently frozen.

DfL appreciates the difficulties faced by couples seeking IVF whose children may suffer from genetic conditions, especially those that may limit life expectancy or severely impact quality of life. We all strongly desire to reduce illness in children.

However the current proposal does not eliminate illness but eliminates the ill. It merely identifies the ‘sick’ ones and discards them.

Doctors for Life trusts that there are more ethical and humane approaches to address this issue. A limited screening for genetic conditions can be done on the female eggs or ova before formation of an embryo, with a method called Polar Body Testing which offers the possibility of detecting an abnormal number of chromosomes as well as maternal single gene diseases. With this method, parental concerns would be addressed by screening for specific conditions; however this would be done before we form the embryos, not after.

Like this, we would truly reduce the burden of illness by preventing the formation of embryos that carry the conditions as opposed to the current proposal which merely identifies and permanently freezes ‘genetically abnormal’ embryos that are already formed. Whilst the screening is not as broad as PGD it avoids all the ethical burdens. We will be issuing a paper with a more detailed and technical explanation of the procedure.

DfL is encouraging an honest consultation process that evaluates all the options as well as a free vote for MPs by both parties in parliament. Such decisions carry profound ethical and moral implications and should not be made without adequate information, reflection and liberty.

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