Experts criticise lack of NHS funding for PGD
Progress Educational Trust03 May 2009
British couples at risk from passing on a serious genetic disorder to their children are being refused National Health Service (NHS) funding for treatment which could allow them to have a healthy child, medical experts have warned this week. The procedure, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), involves creating embryos through conventional IVF, testing them for a particular condition, and only implanting those free from that condition into the woman's womb. In the absence of this procedure, many couples wishing to have children are forced to conceive naturally and face the prospect of either having an affected child, or of terminating any pregnancies which test positive for the condition.
Alison Lashwood, consultant nurse in genetics and PGD at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London, told the Times newspaper: 'There are couples we have seen who have not been given funding, who have gone on to have affected children. Others have had to go down the prenatal testing route and some have had terminations.' Earlier this week, Guy's hospital celebrated the opening of its new 'Assisted Conception Unit and PGD Centre', offering standard fertility treatments, such as IVF and ICSI, as well as the largest and most successful PGD programme in the UK.
Part of the controversy around PGD relates to the possibility of couples wanting to create so called 'designer' babies, by selecting embryos for attributes such as height, intelligence or sporting ability. However, such traits, like many common illnesses, are the result of a combination of different genetic and non-genetic factors, making the prospect of selecting embryos with such traits virtually impossible. Furthermore, the treatment is highly regulated and the overseeing body - the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - has a definitive list of genetic disorders which it considers sufficiently 'serious' for PGD to be offered, although decisions over whether or not to award the £7,000 necessary for a PGD cycle are made locally on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the NHS Trust.
Claire Holdcroft, an outreach worker for the Jennifer Trust, which works with families affected by the life-limiting childhood condition spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), said that ending the PGD 'postcode lottery' would help them better advise at-risk couples. 'It would be really helpful if there were nationwide standards for who should be entitled to [PGD] so everyone knew where they stood and we knew that, as a national charity, we were giving out relevant advice,' she told the BBC.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.