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Germany

New German bill proposed for limited embryo screening

German members of parliament have presented draft legislation that would allow the screening of implanted embryos, but only to identify serious genetic diseases. That goes too far for many lawmakers.

A pipette approaches an ovum

The bill's backers want PGD only to prevent serious disease

Parliamentarians from all German mainstream parties joined on Tuesday to present a draft bill which would allow embryo screening - also known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or PGD - in narrowly defined situations.

Two other draft bills are on the way, both taking an even more restrictive line.

The new bills are a response to a decision by the Federal Court of Justice in July, that ruled that a total and unconditional ban of PGD would not be in line with the constitution.

One of the main proponents of the current bill, Ulrike Flach of the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, the liberal Free Democrats, emphasized that it was not intended to open any floodgates.

"Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis will, in general, still be banned," she said. "But it will be allowed under very special circumstances."

Those circumstances include cases where one parent suffers from a severe hereditary condition which could be passed on to the child and would lead to severe disease, stillbirth or miscarriage.

Avoiding abortions

Peter Hintze of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said that the kind of cases they were talking about could lead to late abortions, since pre-natal diagnosis for such conditions is legal.

"Our bill focuses on the situation of the women affected," he said. "We want to keep them free of conflicts over pregnancy."

Chancellor Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the conservatives who oppose PGD on principle

The bill would set up an ethics commission to decide which genetic conditions would justify the use of screening. The commission would be able to respond to scientific developments, removing diseases from the list should cures become available.

PGD raises ethical questions because it also has the potential to screen for genetic characteristics unrelated to medical necessity. Anxieties about "designer babies" are not new, prompting Jerzy Montag of the opposition Green Party to try to calm any such fears

"I'm not thinking of parents who'd like to have a musically gifted child, or one with blue eyes, or one that doesn't suffer from obesity," he said. "But I'm thinking for instance of a woman who already has a child suffering from a severe congenital disease, a woman who wants to have another child, but wants to ensure it has a better deal in life.

Although the bill presented on Tuesday is supported by members of all parties, it will not necessarily get majority support in the Bundestag. Opponents, including those who will sponsor the other two drafts, fear that screening to remove undesirable genes, however serious, could eventually have an adverse impact on the way society treats people with disabilities.

Author: Hardy Graupner, Berlin (mll)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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