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Who gets born?


19 June 2008

Who gets born?

Advice to government on new biotechnologies

Pregnancy tests, blood tests and ultrasounds are routinely offered to expectant mothers as part of their programme of pre-natal care.

These, and other forms of pre-birth testing, can be used to identify genetic disorders, diseases and physical disorders such as Cystic Fibrosis and Down syndrome.

Thousands of women undergo screening every year and enjoy routine pregnancies.

But pre-birth testing also allows many families to avoid having children who suffer from painful, disabling or fatal conditions, and allows others time to adjust to a baby being born with a disability or a medical condition.

Technology is rapidly expanding the range of tests available – and expanding the range of choices parents and society are faced with in deciding who gets born.

Over the course of a year Toi te Taiao: the Bioethics Council engaged New Zealanders on these issues through a process of intensive deliberation. Deliberation encourages people to move beyond individual preferences to consider the needs of the whole community.

More than 700 joined in – both in person and online.

It’s the first time such an approach has been used to inform New Zealand policy makers on public opinion.

Today the Bioethics Council releases its advice to Government on pre-birth testing.

Entitled Who Gets Born? the report contains recommendations to Government on the cultural, spiritual and ethical issues associated with pre-birth testing, in light of public opinion and the implications of rapidly changing technology.

Bioethics Council Chair Associate Professor Martin Wilkinson says the time was right to engage with New Zealanders.

“Parents are facing more choices as the range of pre-birth testing expands, and Government is working on new guidelines to govern the growing availability – and consequences – of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.”

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, is the testing of embryos created outside the mother’s body.

“Take IVF for example. Most people think of it as a way to allow people with fertility problems to have a baby.

“But access to PGD means people who don’t necessarily have fertility problems may decide to use IVF for a different reason, namely to test embryos for genetic conditions. Only embryos that don’t have the condition are implanted.”

Martin Wilkinson says considerations around pre-birth testing aren’t only medical.

“They touch on cultural, spiritual and ethical issues - and these were at the fore when we set out to find out what people really thought and felt.

“These recommendations come from the Bioethics Council, but they also reflect the feedback of those who helped frame the range of possible approaches to pre-birth testing and consider their consequences.

“For many New Zealanders this is a very emotional issue and we’re privileged so many engaged so thoughtfully and passionately,” Martin Wilkinson says.

Who Gets Born? is available online at www.bioethics.org.nz

ENDS

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