Prenatal testing could lead to killing embryos with ‘below average’ IQs

chimeras, abortion, IVF

The UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) notes in a recent article that IVF genetic screening continues to edge closer and closer to the “slippery slope” of creating designer babies.

“It could soon be possible to choose children based on likely IQ level, while destroying others who fail to ‘qualify,'” claims the group’s article regarding new testing from New Jersey-based company, Genomic Prediction. SPUC writes (emphasis added):

While such a test can’t predict IQ for each embryo, it can, apparently, indicate certain genetic outliers, allowing parents to avoid embryos with a high chance of an IQ 25 points below average. While the company says it will only offer screening based on intelligence for cases of “mental disability”, co-founder Stephen Hsu claims the technique could be used to identify embryos with a likelihood of having a high IQ. “I think people are going to demand that,” he said. “If we don’t do it, some other company will.”

READ: Reproductive justice: When prenatal diagnosis makes children disappear

The testing relies not on screening for any single genetic condition — as with conditions like cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome — but on a “polygenic risk score” which tracks numerous DNA regions to assess “a person’s likelihood for having certain conditions or traits.” A New Scientist article claims, ” A study published in July found more than 1000 DNA regions that together accounted for 13 per cent of variation in academic achievement.”

Many see huge problems with this. Lynn Murray of a pro-Down syndrome, anti-prenatal screening group, noted, “If we consider inclusion and diversity to be a measure of societal progress, then IQ screening proposals are unethical.” SPUC adds that IVF doctors “are already claiming this is a ‘health’ issue – though in fact any embryo ‘deselected’ would be killed.”

The ethical implications of polygenic risk scoring should not be overlooked. The slippery slope seems to have become even more slippery.

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