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In vitro testing of cancer in fetuses has been approved

Intestinal cancer may appear as early as in the teens - does this justify treatment already in the embryonic stage? The tests, approved in the UK, are designed to locate genes for intestinal cancer, which is inherited. There is growing controversy in the country over the method that may lead to the "improvement of the breed"

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The British Fertilization and Embryo Research Authority has approved scientists for the first time, to conduct tests on test-tube embryos, in order to investigate hereditary fetal cancer. The approval came following a request from a couple who wanted to undergo in vitro fertilization.
The BBC reported that there is a high chance that genetic bowel cancer is passed down from parent to son, and that British scientists hope that the current, controversial research method will help fight this cancer.
A spokeswoman for the Authority confirmed that a group of scientists at the College of London began conducting tests on fetuses, in order to discover the gene that causes polyp cancer in the tissue of the glands. If a parent is a carrier of this gene - there is a 50% chance that the gene will also be passed on to their child. The presence of the gene may lead to colon or rectal cancer already in the early teens.

One of the couples who won the right to transfer their embryo in vitro through these tests said that they were "happy with the decision, not only for the right to give our child the best chance to be free of the diseased genes, but also to prevent him from passing it on through inheritance."

"We must look for drugs that save lives and not those that kill"

The test also enables the detection of the embryo's gender - and will enable the elimination of the unwanted gender (Photo: Moti Gal) Embryos created by in vitro fertilization can be tested through a process of genetic diagnosis before implantation. This is a technology that enables the discovery of genetic defects in embryos created as a result of in vitro fertilization. The genetic diagnosis is conducted on one or two cells that are taken from the embryo two to four days after fertilization, before the transfer of the embryo to implantation and continued development in the uterus. The removal of the cells is carried out using a micromanipulation technique in a way that does not harm the further development of the embryo. After that, the molecular structure of the genetic material (DNA) of the removed fetal cells is examined in order to discover genetic or chromosomal defects in the fetus. The test also allows identification of the sex of the fetus.

After the test, only the embryos that are free of the cancerous gene will be implanted in the mother's body. In the past, the process was used to diagnose various health disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, but this is the first time it is used to diagnose a disease that does not affect the patient until the beginning of puberty.

Doctors in the UK express concern about the research, and point out that the decision to approve it should have been made "by a larger audience". Dr. Mohammed Taransi, director of the gynecological center in London, said that "although we are talking about medical conditions with serious consequences, we are talking about conditions that will not exist at the time of birth. Is there a chance that these conditions will appear only 20, 30 or 40 years later during a person's life, or will they not appear at all, or is there a chance that by then a cure for the disease will be found? Is this the right thing to do? It is not the role of the Fetal Research Authority, or three of its members, or even a clinical doctor like me, to make such a decision. It must be accepted after an in-depth discussion." Doctor Taransi submitted a request to conduct research on breast cancer genes, and his request is being considered by the authority.

Other sources expressed concern about the ethical aspects of the decision, and warned against a deterioration that would begin with the approval to treat fetuses that will contract the disease in their adulthood and may end in "breeding". Some claim: "We must look for medicines that save lives and not those that kill".

The duty to do in front of the ethical morality

As mentioned, the dilemmas that arise in the context of prenatal genetic diagnosis technology are part of a broader discussion of the ethical implications of using new medical technologies. The basic question that is asked in this context is "is it our duty to do everything we can do". That is, is it appropriate to use any technology just because the technical possibility is at our disposal.

This question arises in full force in the field of artificial insemination technologies, of which this test is a part. Also, this issue reflects two important interests that need to be balanced: the parents' right to privacy and family planning as they wish, compared to the state's right to prevent the abuse of technology and protect vulnerable groups in society. In this context, conflicting opinions are heard on the question of whether parents have a constitutional right to "selection of embryos". Some believe that this right exists but is limited to selection for medical reasons only, as opposed to selection for traits that have nothing to do with a medical condition. There are also those who believe that the constitutional right to "reproductive freedom" also includes the right to selection based on non-medical criteria, but this is an unusual and unacceptable approach.

The concerns that arise from this type of medicine are: fear of "breed improvement" or "genetic engineering", through increasing the number of newborns born with features/characteristics that are considered desirable/desirable or through the elimination of features that are considered undesirable. Fear of violating the "gender balance" in society - the claim being made is that this will cause a violation of the "natural balance" between men and women, similar to the consequences of selection of fetuses/babies of the female sex through abortion which is common in some countries. Compared to those who categorically deny the use of a sexual selection method for non-medical purposes, there are those who support it in a limited way. For example, for the benefit of families in which there is no balance between boys and girls who want to "balance" the family.

Even assuming that we are reduced to using this process for medical purposes only, the question arises as to what is the boundary line that will define the degree of severity of a disease/defect/disability that justifies such a selection. There is also concern about the reliability of the diagnosis, which is based on the genetic material of one or two cells taken from the fetus, as opposed to a larger number of cells that form the basis of genetic diagnosis in traditional methods. Finally, there is the traditional claim, according to which the destruction of fetuses is equivalent to abortion, which in the eyes of abortion opponents is equated to "murder".

For news at the BBC
He knew genetic medicine

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