British fertility clinic granted license to begin screening embryos for cosmetic defects

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, Development/Milestones: Babies, Media, Gadgets

A family clinic in London is set for the first time to screen embryos for a cosmetic defect. The Bridge Centre Family Clinic has been licensed by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to create a baby free from a genetic disorder which would have caused the baby to have a severe squint. The clinic's client is a businessman who, along with his father, suffers from the condition, and he does not want to pass the defect on to his child. This may not seem like such a big deal, but critics say it is a landmark shift from HFEA's former policy of granting licenses for doctors only to screen for life-threatening problems, not simply those that might affect the quality of a child's life. They also say this is the first step towards using advances in genetics and embryology to creating "perfect-looking" babies in a laboratory.

Prof Gedis Grudzinskas of HFEA also does believe this is a major shift, and says this procedure will still be used primarily to prevent major defects that would cause a family major distress: "We will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions," he said. While he uses modifiers like "major" and "severe," Grudzinskas also said he might consider licensing such a screening for problems as minor and as common as asthma or ginger hair color.

Critic David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, responded to this decision by saying: "Philosophers love to deride the idea of a slippery slope, but here it is in practice. We moved from preventing children who will die young to those who might become ill in middle age. We now discard those who will live as long as the rest of us but are cosmetically imperfect." It's a brave new world.

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