Bioethics Blogs

Transferring Embryos with Genetic Anomalies

Jackie Leach Scully argues that respect for equality and diversity, and not just respect for the parental autonomy and the welfare of the future child, should inform policies governing the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis.


The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recently published an Opinion on “Transferring embryos with genetic anomalies detected in preimplantation testing.” The Opinion aims to help providers deal with the rare but ethically difficult situation when prospective parents want to transfer embryos with a known genetic anomaly that is linked to a serious health-affecting disorder.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is typically used by couples to avoid transferring a genetic anomaly to their children. Using PGD to ensure the transfer of a genetic anomaly, rather than avoid it, seems deeply counter-intuitive. Yet, there are several scenarios where this might happen. For example, this might be a reasonable option when the only transferable embryos carry the genetic anomaly, or when the embryos carry a different, but potentially just as serious, genetic variation.

The most problematic cases, however, occur when prospective parents express an actual preference for children with ‘their’ genetic condition – an anomalous condition that others perceive in negative terms. It’s an uncommon situation, but despite its rarity steps have been taken to block attempts by prospective parents to ‘choose disability’, such as the UK’s legislation on reproductive medicine. The legislation prohibits the use of an embryo (or gamete, in the case of egg and sperm donation) that has a genetic anomaly “involving a significant risk” of “a serious physical or mental disability, serious illness, or a serious medical condition” unless there are no other unaffected embryos or gametes that could be used instead.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.