November 09, 2003
New Zealand May Screen Embryo Adopters

Need an embryo to start a pregnancy? If you are in New Zealand you may find yourself going through the same sorts of screening steps that baby adopters routinely do now in many jurisdictions.

Infertile couples adopting an embryo may have to undergo police checks to determine if they are suitable recipients. The move is being considered by the National Ethics Committee on Assisted Human Reproduction (NECAHR) as it sets guidelines for embryo donation for reproductive purposes.

Conceptually this is not all that different than screening people who want to make babies from their own sperm and eggs. So you have to use someone else's egg. Why is that any more reason to screen for parental competence and character than if one uses one's own egg?

Recipient screening is only one side of the issue. In Denmark a sperm bank is doing criminal background checks on sperm donors.

In Denmark, the world's biggest sperm bank - Cryos International Sperm Bank in Aarhus - has been forced to start screening donors for any criminal record after it emerged that a man who killed his two baby daughters was on its books.

Think about how this is going to develop once alleles are identified that contribute to criminality. There will be calls to prevent men with criminal tendencies from reproducing. But rather than an outright ban on reproduction of criminals there might be a move to prevent criminals from passing on just the genetic variations that make the biggest contribution to criminality. How could that be done? pre-implantation genetic screening. A recent advance in biotechnology may make pre-implantation for genetic variations easier to do.

Hundreds of cells have been grown from a single cell taken from an early mouse embryo. If the same feat can be repeated in humans, it would make screening embryos for genetic defects during IVF much easier and more accurate.

Pre-implantation genetic screening is already becoming popular for sexual selection. Surprisingly, in Australia genetic screening for sex selection is being done more often to select for a girl than to select for a boy.

But at Sydney IVF a leading company for IVF and genetic testing more than 250 couples have used PGD for sex selection since 1995.

Just over a third of the treatments resulted in a pregnancy and 64 per cent of parents wanted a girl.

Suppose genetic screening for sex selection becomes much more widely used. One way to prevent a large imbalance between the sexes would be to tax babies born of the more popular sex and give the proceeds to those who have babies of the less popular sex. The size of the tax could be set at whatever level is needed to achieve a balance between the sexes. That would be a lot easier to enforce than a ban against sexual selection since such a ban would be hard to enforce. Tax collection and disbursement would be a lot easier to carry out. While poor parents would present a problem for any tax collection system the collection side could be progressive and it would still work on the middle class and above.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 November 09 07:32 PM  Biotech Reproduction

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