Monday, May 15, 2006

PGD for inheritable cancer

The latest (May 10th) press release from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK notes that the Authority is considering relaxing some of the permissible medical uses of PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to include screening for cancers such as breast cancer and similar conditions. The report states:

"At our open meeting today, the Authority agreed that we should consider the use of PGD embryo testing for conditions such as inherited breast, ovarian and bowel cancers that given the aggressive nature of the cancers, the impact of treatment and the extreme anxiety that carriers of the gene can experience. These conditions differ from those already licensed before because people at risk do not always develop cancer, it may occur later in life and some treatments may be available".

This update is timely as I am in the midst of re-working a paper on regulating the non-medical uses of PGD (e.g. gender selection). I admit that I am somewhat baffled that many take the view that permitting even medical uses of PGD (let alone non-medical uses) is controversial and should be prohibited. I am presenting my paper on non-medical uses of PGD to three different conferences later this month so I will post some detailed thoughts on these issues after those are over.

A determination of permissible and impermissible uses of PGD raises interesting questions about the scope and limitations of reproductive freedom. No doubt part of the reason why these issues are so controversial is the fact that they raise concerns of inclusion, gender equality and freedom (amongst others). And like all ethical dilemmas it is difficult to see how one can justly accommodate these diverse values and concerns. In my paper I outline a theoretical model that can help us tackle some of these issues. So please stay tuned for more on this.