screened embryo babies in Oz

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Wed Apr 19 2000 - 09:40:34 MDT


                                  Jasmine and Wayne
                                  McLachlan's unborn twins - a
              boy and a girl - belong to one of the world's most
              select, high-tech clubs.

              Not only were they conceived in a laboratory using
              IVF techniques, but as tiny embryos they were
              genetically tested to ensure that they had not
              inherited a fatal disease, before being transferred to
              Jasmine's womb.

              Only a few hundred children have been born
              worldwide following this procedure because it is
              technically difficult, requiring the careful removal of
              one cell from a four-cell embryo and analysis of a
              minute amount of DNA.

              It is also expensive. The McLachlans, from Dubbo,
              estimate that their twins have cost them between
              $15,000 and $18,000 in non-rebatable medical and
              travel expenses.

              Despite these drawbacks, genetic testing of embryos
              and selection of the best ones - the so-called "designer
              baby" technology - is likely to become more common.

              Knowledge about genes is increasing rapidly, with the
              first draft of the human genetic code expected to be
              completed soon.

              This Herald series looks at the future of genetic

              In NSW, several IVF clinics have recently formed an
              alliance to provide embryo diagnosis in competition
              with the program already available at Sydney IVF,
              where the McLachlans were treated.

              Professor Gillian Turner, of Hunter Genetics, who will
              oversee genetic analysis for the group, estimates that
              30 couples a year - fertile and infertile - will seek
              testing initially.

              But as costs decrease and the technology develops,
              demand is expected to grow.

              "Perhaps in the future we will reach a situation where
              it is built into the service of every IVF clinic; we will
              only put back embryos that have been tested," says
              Professor Geoffrey Driscoll, of City West IVF, the
              biggest clinic in the group.

              The long-term hope for the genetic revolution is that it
              will lead to new drugs, treatments and cures for

              But the most immediate impact is an enhanced ability
              to prevent people with genetic faults from being born.

              Already about 9 per cent of pregnant women have
              prenatal genetic diagnosis - twice as many as a
              decade ago. As a result, more women are terminating
              pregnancies each year.

              For example, 113 foetuses with Down syndrome were
              aborted in 1996 in Australia compared with 46 in
              1987. [etc]

Tediously, the special section is headed:

GENES Knowing Too Much



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