New Zealand Government to fund PGD
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust17 December 2005
The New Zealand Government is to make $500,000 in funding available for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for 'high-risk couples'. Pete Hodgson, the Minister of Health, says that this funding will allow about 40 women or couples per year access to embryo testing for genetic conditions such as Huntington's disease, haemophilia and cystic fibrosis. People who wish to access the funding should initially see their own doctor, and the funding will be available through district health boards beginning in the first half of 2006.
PGD involves taking a single cell from a 2-4 day old embryo created using in vitro fertilisation (IVF), performing a genetic or chromosome test on that cell, and then returning one or two unaffected embryos to the womb. In New Zealand, the procedure, including the IVF, costs about $12,000 a time. The Health Ministry will allow couples at 'high-risk' of passing on a serious genetic disorder up to two attempts at the procedure - but the funding will not extend to screening older mothers for chromosome disorders. Everyone seeking PGD will receive 'genetic and psychosocial counselling from appropriately qualified counsellors'.
Pete Hodgson said that the Government is making the funding available because 'for some couples the chance of serious genetic conditions has meant that becoming parents has been too risky'. He added that many couples in the past have had to 'get pregnant first and test the developing fetus for disorders later'. As this situation was seen to be undesirable, the Government decided to fund PGD: 'by testing first and ensuring that embryos with serious genetic disorders are not implanted, we can make it much easier for those couples to have healthy children', he said.
Groups supporting people with various genetic conditions have welcomed the news. John Forman, the executive director of Organisations for Rare Disorders, said that the public funding of PGD is 'a tremendous step forward, which a lot of families have been waiting for for a long time'. Kate Russell, chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Association in New Zealand, says that several couples she knows will want access to the tests as soon as the funding becomes available. However, the Catholic Church is opposed to the idea of funding for PGD. It says that funding PGD is the same as funding terminations and argues that funds would be better spent on treating sick people. A spokesman for the group Right to Life said that they oppose PGD 'because it entails discrimination against the human embryo because it has a potential for disability'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.