By DEBORAH SMITH
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
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
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
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
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
Tediously, the special section is headed:
GENES Knowing Too Much
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