By Prof. Andrew Azzopardi, Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing
PGD has primarily been used by couples at high risk of transmitting a genetic disease. It involves the analysis of embryos for the presence of one or more disease-associated genetic alterations.
While some members of the Government turn their focus onto the introduction of PGD legislation, as Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing I strongly appeal that it is essential for the Country’s medical, scientific, and social sectors to have sufficient time to reflect on and react to the potentially serious implications of such legislation free from political interference.
This diagnostic technique has been increasingly used as a means of selecting and rejecting embryos carrying genetic abnormalities, thereby aiming to improve pregnancy rates and decrease miscarriage rates. However, while improving success rates for individuals and families longing for children one cannot ignore a troubling trend that is overtaking the global application of PGD technologies and the underlying ideology involved that we need to be vigilant on.
In deselecting any traces of potential impairment or incompatibility to life, we would also be accepting an ideology of quality control to achieve perfection and implicitly partake in a judgement on the value of any life that does not meet the faultlessness criteria. Whether we like it or not, this ideology inadvertently reflects a modern acceptable version of eugenic thinking from days gone by. There are serious risks and we cannot look away from the moral meaning of what is being taken on board, and reflect. The fanfare of scientific and medical progress must not blind us to these complex issues.
On the other hand, the closer we get to a future dominated by the commercial marketing of human genetic technology the more powerful will the social expectations become for the “perfect baby” - whether the parameters for perfection are defined by purely parental desires, culturally imposed norms, or societal expectations, with, as yet, largely unknown repercussions. We must seriously consider the potential for these developments which risk exacerbating existing social injustices and inequalities, by reinforcing discrimination and existing threats of exclusion. We cannot run away from the potential consequence of this development contributing to making our society less tolerant and accepting of differences.
The financial, emotional, and human costs of such a trajectory must be seriously considered before making any ethically, culturally, and socially knee-jerk decisions that will impact the future of our children, for generations to come. I appeal to all to be careful that we do not add empty promises to couples who are already taken up with a lot of emotions.
My appeal is that we start off by asking ourselves;
what preliminary work was done before propelling this issue in the public domain? what legal framework do we need to develop to avoid testing for the ‘perfect baby’? what safeguards are being considered in order to ensure that if these procedures are adopted they are not abused? what ethical impact assessment has been done? what is the impact on society if we had to embark on this road?
Apart from that let’s not take people on a wild goose chase. I have been informed that in other countries, for example the UK, it has taken decades to set up such a service that had to include specialists from the scientific, medical, ethical and social field and to have the necessary infrastructure that I have been told we are nowhere close to having in our national health services.
Given the seriousness of such an intervention we need to ensure that we engage with all the stakeholders taking into cognizance the cultural context of our Country in order to guarantee that we are operating in a manner which is in line with our principles and values. This issue calls for a national forum that will see academics, researchers, social operators, ethicists, medical experts, parents, discussing this matter without nuances driven by an overzealous and faultily motivated political class.
Disclaimer: Opinions and thoughts expressed within this article do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Malta.