German scientific panel supports limited pre-implantation testing | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 19.01.2011
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German scientific panel supports limited pre-implantation testing

The controversial practice of screening artificially inseminated embryos for genetic diseases before they implanted should be permitted, according a panel of 13 scientists.

An egg being inseminated

Women, not politicians, should decide on PGD, scientists said

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of embryos should be permitted in Germany under strict conditions, according to a statement released Tuesday by a group of 13 scientists, including Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1995.

"It is about making it possible for a woman to make a decision on a matter of conscience," said Hans-Peter Zenner, a professor of medicine at the University of Wuerzburg, and the head of the panel, adding that the scientists saw "no necessity on the part of the state to prohibit this decision with legislation."

The group of researchers, however, said the tests should not be permitted to harm the embryo and should only be conducted when couples can show a high medical risk of genetic diseases that could affect their children. The group also said decisions to conduct such testing should be approved by a panel of experts on a case-by-case basis.

A doctor conducting an ultrasound test on a pregnant woman

Other types of prenatal testing is allowed and covered by heath insurance in Germany

Testing for non-genetic diseases should not be allowed and a panel of experts should decide whether to conduct the tests on a case-by-case basis, according to the group's statement.

Basing its estimate on PGD conducted in other European countries, the group said Germany could expect several hundred women annually to request the tests, which are conducted on artificially inseminated embryos before they are implanted in the womb.

Legal limbo

Prenatal testing of embryos in the womb, which is permitted and have been covered by health insurance for women over 35, would increase if a ban is placed on PGD, the group said, adding that women often choose to terminate their pregnancies if a genetic defect is found in these tests.

"The alternative [to PGD] is that a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a handicapped or undergoes prenatal testing and aborts the pregnancy," the group wrote.

The group of scientists also pointed out that "day after pills" and abortions are legal in Germany.

PGD, however, is not expressly permitted in Germany, but a Federal Court of Justice ruling called the practice "principally compatible" with German law.

Since the July ruling, politicians have debated how to address the issue. For many, the memory of the Nazis administering lethal injections to handicapped children forbids embryo screening in modern Germany.

German parliament has seen the introduction of three PGD-related bills: one calls for a strict ban while the other two set different conditions for the circumstances under which the tests can be conducted. The parliament is set to decide on the measures in the spring.

The 13 scientists came from the Leopoldina National Academy of Sciences, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and the German Academy of Science and Engineering.

Author: Sean Sinico (dpa, AP)

Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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