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the unborn baby and the bath water

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 01, 2009

 For more than a decade, thousands of older women undergoing in-vitro fertilization have relied on an expensive embryo-screening procedure to boost their chances of getting pregnant.

Thus begins a cautionary story in the Wall Street Journal. But soon you realize that the real problem is not only getting pregnant but staying pregnant-- that is, 1) avoiding miscarriage and 2) having a pregnancy that the mother won't choose to abort. Read on:

Most medical experts agree that embryo screening can significantly reduce the risk of serious chromosome-related illnesses, such as Down syndrome.

There's no risk that the mother will contract Down syndrome. It's a chromosome disorder. The mother's chromosomes were set for life some years ago: back when she was an embryo. The Journal account doesn't quite explain who faces the risks of illness-- it would be impolite to talk about the baby, at a time when the mother still might decide not to continue the pregnancy-- but of course it's the embryo.

For women, embryo screening has offered two benefits: it helps them determine whether they will be able to continue the pregnancy, and whether they want to continue the pregnancy. For embryos, the procedure never offered any benefits at all. Just risks. The risk of contracting a chromosome disorder that will cause miscarriage. The risk of contracting Down syndrome, which will cause a restricted life. And the risk of becoming unwanted.

Now the doctors tell us that the screening process can help identify chromosome disorders in embryos, but it might also cause chromosome disorders in embryos. So it's not at all clear that there's any benefit to would-be mothers. For embryos, the cost-benefit analysis hasn't changed.

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