In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) clinics in Western Australia have given the go ahead to screen embryos to reduce the chance of parents having children with autism. Autism Daily Newscast first reported the application to determine sex of sperm for high risk families had been approved back on October 29, 2013
The media frenzy which followed the announcement has bought supporters and fervent opposers out and writing their opinions on-line and in print.
Western Australia’s Reproductive Technology Council will now screen women who have a family history of autism and implant them with female embryos only, due to the prevalence of children being diagnosed with autism being male (approximately one girl to every four boys being diagnosed).
The West Australian reported that:
“only families at high risk of having a child with autism, such as families who already have two boys with severe autism, would be considered for embryo screening”.
The decision has been branded Eugenic by some, calling into question the rationality of terminating embryos at all because of autism. The eugenic label itself is deeply disturbing as it is strongly linked with the Nazsi regime of World War 2.
Bio Ethicist Andrew Whitehouse wrote in The conversation on November 17:
“Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis/screening (PGD) is an IVF technique that occurs at the embryo stage prior to implantation. PGD is not the abortion of a developing baby in the womb. It is the screening of fertilized eggs prior to being implanted in the womb.”
“I also imagine how I would feel if I were a person with autism and I heard a discussion about prenatal screening for ‘me’. I imagine how I would feel if the ‘all clear’ had been given to screen embryos for short-sightedness or for extraversion, both of which are part of who I am.
Angry, outraged, and certainly more than a little unwanted.
The flip-side of the debate is that autism sometimes associated with significant disability that can affect quality of life.
It is without question that a person’s life would be improved if they were free from intellectual disability, if they had the facility to communicate more freely, and if they had the capacity to live independently.
To want a person to live without disability does not diminish in any way our love for people in these circumstances, nor their irreplaceable importance in our lives.”
Autism advocates have also voiced their concerns about the process.
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