Controversial test allows parents to test embryos for genetic disorders

embryo

DENVER — Families who want to have a baby, but are fearful of passing on a genetic disorder, now have more options. A controversial test called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis allows parents going through in vitro fertilization to select embryos that do not carry certain gene mutations.

With advancements in the last few years, PGD can now test for dozens of disorders.

Beth White, of Golden, decided to go through the testing. Her first child, Ellie, was born with a rare genetic disorder called Wolfram Syndrome.

It causes type 1 diabetes and vision loss, ultimately affecting the brain stem and breathing. “Unfortunately it’s a terminal disorder. It’s really horrible,” Beth White said.

Ellie is now 12, and doing remarkably well. Her younger brother, Ryan, was born before Ellie was diagnosed and does not have the disease. But when it came time to have another child, Beth did not want to risk having another child with the fatal disorder.

“It got to be important to make sure that if we are bringing a new life into the word, that it won’t also have the suffering and struggles that Ellie is going through,” Beth said.

So the family went to the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine for some help. The clinic performs the PGD tests every week, allowing parents to choose embryos that test negative.

“If both parents have a gene, the baby can get two copies and often have a fatal disease,” explained Dr. William Schoolcraft, director of the fertility clinic.

He says the technology is improving. Five years ago doctors could test for about 20 genetic disorders, and now they can test for about 100. The can even check for the BRCA gene mutation that can cause breast and ovarian cancer.

IVF generally can cost about $20,000. PGD costs another $5,000. Dr. Schoolcraft says the test is safer than it used to be, but it’s no less controversial.

Dr. Megan Woodman with the Catholic Medical Association, believes all human embryos should be valued. “The selection and destruction of embryos due to the presence of an undesirable trait or diagnosis of disease fails to recognize the dignity of human life, and leads to the assumption that the life of a person with a certain diagnosis isn’t worth the same as an individual who is free of disease,” Woodman said.

Beth White had a different view of the process. PGD allowed her to have a baby boy named Matthew, who is now 2 years old and does not have Wolfram Syndrome. She is happy with her decision.

LINK: For more information on PGD
LINK: For more information on Wolfram Syndrome