September 3, 2012

European Court: PGD Ban Violates Reproductive Human Rights

The use of genetics in reproductive decisions has a long pedigree, as prospective parents consider their genetic background when considering whether children will be born free from disease. As molecular genetics enters medicine, a technique known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has been available for couples at high risk of giving birth to offspring with genetic disease (e.g., two parents that are carriers for the recessive cystic fibrosis). By using in vitro fertilization with genetic screening, PGD offers the possibility of selecting an embryo without disease for implantation. This technique is used in the U.S. as a modality in the general field of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), which are largely unregulated by the government here, although subject to professional norms (e.g., American Society for Reproductive Medicine). This past week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italian Law 40 forbidding the use of PGD violated the human rights of a couple that sought to use the technique because of their risk in birthing a second CF child. The law was a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. By analogy to U.S. law, the challenge was a familiar type of assertion for reproductive autonomy against the interference of the state. Italy was ordered to pay damages to the challenging couple. The court noted the "inconsistency of the Italian legal system" - prohibiting the preemptive and avoidant approach of PGD while simultaneously allowing abortion to terminate pregnancy. While the opinion by the ECHR is advisory and does not repeal the law, the ruling will increase pressure on Italy (and possibly Austria and Switzerland, which have similar laws) to reconsider the ban on this ART. Earlier this year, the EHCR ruled that Ireland's abortion ban violated the human rights of a pregnant woman with cancer who could not access abortion services despite her pregnancy-related health risk.

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