German parliament OKs genetic embryo tests

Berlin: After an emotional debate, German lawmakers today voted to allow a procedure that looks for genetic disorders in embryos before they are implanted in the womb.

Lawmakers voted 326-260 to permit the procedure known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis under strict conditions after a debate that crossed party lines. Eight lawmakers

The procedure is used after in vitro fertilization, when parents whose families have a history of genetic disorders want to avoid having a child with a lethal or severely debilitating birth defect.

While it is permitted in other countries, its legality had been a gray area in Germany. Parliament took up the issue after a federal court last year ruled that a doctor who had
performed the procedure had not committed any offense.

Under the law approved today, an ethics commission will have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether couples can use the procedure.

A large minority of lawmakers had favored a total ban on the practice, with some saying even limited permission for genetic selection set a bad precedent.

"This is about variety: do we want to allow it in our society?" asked Katrin Goering-Eckardt of the opposition Greens, one of those advocating a ban.

But lawmakers who backed allowing the practice said it would be an option only in a few cases, and argued that parents who worry about possible genetic defects should be trusted with the decision to use it.

"I am firmly convinced that we should not choose to close our eyes to how we can use modern medicine appropriately to support and help these long-suffering families," said Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Opposition lawmaker Soeren Bartol said he wanted to give couples at risk of passing on genetic disorders the option of deciding to have a child.

"I would also like these parents to be spared, as far as possible, the terrible experience of a miscarriage or a still birth," he added.

Despite the lawmakers` emotional debate, medical researchers say the procedure, a test done to pick the best embryos, has largely proved to be a disappointment.

Doctors had assumed the test would improve pregnancy rates, but studies showed that women who had their embryos tested were actually less likely to become pregnant, probably because scientists still can`t accurately predict which embryos will succeed.

A study in its early stages presented this week at a European fertility conference in Stockholm suggested that embryos which look problematic on day three can fix themselves by day five.

Bureau Report

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