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gbs Ethics Commission Recommends Admission of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis


Thorben Wengert /

As a general rule, all people who choose the arduous path of artificial insemination should have the possibility of PGD. This emerges from a statement by the Giordano Bruno Stigtung's ethics committee, which was delivered today to the members of the German Ethics Council.

The report, in which leading German ethics experts were involved, states: "In a liberal community, responsible citizens should be allowed to do and leave as they please, as long as they cannot be prohibited from doing so for good reasons". Such "good, generalizable reasons" do not exist either for a ban on PGD or for the restriction of PGD proposed by some politicians, for example to couples whose hereditary predisposition has been proven.

In order to prove this, the commission refutes the main arguments that have so far been put forward in the political debate against the admissibility of PGD. The authors argue that the assumption that early embryos possess "full human dignity" is based on religious beliefs which cannot claim universal validity. While every citizen is free to condemn preimplantation diagnostics as a "sin", no one has the right to impose this view on those who think differently. It is not compatible with the principles of a liberal-pluralistic democracy that "the state imposes a certain ideologically bound concept on its citizens". Legislation should therefore be "designed to maximize the reproductive autonomy of citizens and minimize state intervention to a rationally acceptable level".

In particular, the commission criticises the conviction that selective pre-implantation diagnostics contradict the "life interest of embryos". It is obvious that embryos which do not feel anything and which can be cryopreserved at -196 degrees Celsius have no subjective interest in life. The commission also considers the argument often put forward that the selection of healthy embryos amounts to a reduction in the number of disabled people to be misguided: "The assumption that the destruction of fertilised eggs with genetic defects leads to discrimination against disabled people is as absurd as the demand to abolish vaccination against polio, because this could result in discrimination against people with polio. Anyone who takes a rational, humanistic view should be aware that the disabled and sick deserve our full support, but disability and illness do not".

In the interests of mothers in particular, the commission recommends that only embryos with the best prospects of healthy development should be implanted. Outside Germany, doctors are already routinely searching for the embryo with the best chances of development. It is difficult to see why such a practice should not be possible in Germany: "If parents decide against a genetic defect, their motive is to avoid burdening their future child, to give them optimal starting conditions for life and to avoid additional efforts themselves. There is nothing reprehensible about this."

In view of the possibility to have PGD performed in neighbouring countries, the commission takes the view that the planned restrictions would only affect those citizens who cannot afford PGD abroad. This would be socially unjust and also questionable from a legal policy point of view: "The legislator should refrain from passing a law that could undermine the belief in the rule of law with generally binding norms".

Read the full statement in German: