Quest for Perfection Leads to Selective Killing of Unborn
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, JAN. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The quest for a perfect child is leading to the increasing use of techniques to discover possible health problems in the unborn. Normally this is not done with a view to healing, and results in the deaths of embryos considered imperfect.
It Italy court decisions are in effect undoing a legal prohibition against the use of such screening programs, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). A 2004 national law vetoes screening embryos before they are implanted in the mothers' womb.
Nevertheless, a court in the Lazio region of Italy last week declared this restriction as being "illegitimate," reported the Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera on Jan. 24. Already in past months local tribunals in Florence and in the Sardinian city of Cagliari had come to similar decisions.
In the Cagliari decision the judge upheld a mother's request to screen her in-vitro embryos for a hereditary blood disorder, reported the Italian news agency ANSA on Sept. 25. At the time both the Italian bishops' conference and Catholic politicians were strongly critical of the ruling.
In fact, in 2006 the nation's top tribunal, the Constitutional Court, heard a challenge to the 2004 law regarding its banning of PGD, and the court upheld the statute. "I thought judges were supposed to apply the law and that their interpretations were based on what the Constitutional Court decides," said Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, secretary of the bishops' conference, in comments reported by ANSA following the Cagliari decision.
The Vatican also weighed in after the subsequent Florence decision. Eliminating an embryo is equivalent to homicide, declared Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, in comments reported by the Repubblica newspaper Dec. 24.
The trend to increasing use of PGD is very evident in England. A couple recently received approval to test their embryos for a genetic defect that leads to high cholesterol levels, reported the Times newspaper on Dec. 15.
The approval, by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, was given in relation to a genetic trait that is a relatively rare condition and which can lead to the death of children at an early age. The Times noted, however, that the couple have a milder form of this genetic problem and that it could well result that the embryos would have a good chance of becoming children with reasonably healthy lives.
Shortly after this authorization it was argued that deaf parents should be allowed to screen their embryos so as to be able to pick a deaf child, reported the Sunday Times on Dec. 23. According to Jackie Ballard, chief executive of the Royal Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, a small minority of couples would prefer to have a deaf child so as "to fit in better with the family lifestyle."
Some practitioners of embryo screening were not in agreement. "This would be an abuse of medical technology," stated Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the Bridge Center, a clinic in London that screens embryos, according to the Sunday Times.
Earlier in the year approval was granted to screen embryos for a gene that brings with it an increased risk of breast cancer, reported the Times on July 21. The article commented that not all those with the gene will necessarily develop breast cancer, meaning that the screening will lead to destroying some embryos that would have been healthy.
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