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Pre-pregnancy Screening Gets Green Light In UK

April 6, 2011

The Human Genetics Commission (HGC), upon the request for advice from the U.K. National Screening Committee, reported that genetic tests for inherited diseases should be made widely available to couples before pregnancy.

The report found that “there are no specific social, ethical or legal” reasons why these genetic screenings should not be available to let people know if they are carrying any condition that can be passed on to future generations.

Cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease can develop in children whose parents both carry the genetic condition, reports the Telegraph.

Currently, testing is only available for those who know they have a family risk of these diseases. Otherwise, couples or individuals will not discover that they are a carrier until they are already pregnant.

“At the moment, preconception genetic testing only occurs if an individual knows they are at risk of carrying a genetic condition or they belong to a community which has set up a local screening program,” says Dr. Frances Flinter, chair of the working group which developed the report.

She also says, “People should be told about the availability of testing and the sort of information that can generate, but not specifically encouraged to have the tests, because it’s important that people make the decision themselves as to whether they want to get access to that sort of information.”

The HGC report recommends that these preconception genetic tests should be made available to “all those who may benefit from it,” and suggests that support and advice be given to people who opt for the testing so that they can make informed decisions about their reproductive options.

The report also recommends that “children and young people should learn about antenatal and preconception screening” in their final years of school.

However, there is opposition to these preconception screenings.

Josephine Quintavalle is the director of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics. She believes that the screenings are “simply a modern version of eugenics,” reports the BBC.

Director of Human Genetics Alert, Dr. David King said that the report was “immensely dangerous and that it will inevitably lead to young people being stigmatized and becoming unmarriageable, and disabled people will feel even more threatened.”

The Department of Health spokesperson says, “Genetic screening can be a powerful diagnostic tool in assessing an individual’s risk of conditions such as cystic fibrosis.”

“But there are a number of considerations that are broader than the remit of this report which influence whether specific screening programs should be established.”

The report suggests that “if antenatal carrier screening is offered for a genetic condition,” then “preconception screening should also be offered.”

The findings will now be considered by the U.K. National Screening Committee.

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