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About Genetic Selection


Genetic selection procedures are done either on fetuses, through prenatal screening, or on embryos that are outside a woman’s body, through Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

PGD tests embryos for the presence of genetic sequences linked to a variety of conditions and characteristics. A cell is extracted from an embryo at its eight-cell stage and analyzed. Embryos with the selected characteristics can be implanted in a woman's uterus to develop into a child. The procedure does not appear to affect embryos’ or fetuses’ subsequent development, though more follow-up studies of children born after PGD are needed.


Frequently Asked Questions

Arguments Pro & Con

PGD was developed to allow couples at risk of passing on a serious genetic disease to have children not affected by it. Since its introduction in 1990, it has been most widely used to prevent the birth of children with conditions such as Down's syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, Huntington's chorea, and Cooley's anemia.

However, PGD is increasingly being used for other reasons. These include social sex selection, creating “savior siblings” who can provide bone marrow or other transplant tissues to sick older siblings, and selecting against embryos with genes correlated with late-onset and non-fatal conditions. Some clinics have even offered the technique for purely cosmetic traits including eye color, hair color, and skin complexion.

A newer variation of PGD, called Preimplantation Genetic Haplotyping, allows for many more genes to be tested, and for greater accuracy.

Many disability rights advocates, in particular, have been critical of PGD and prenatal screening. They point out that the definition of "disease" is to some extent subjective. Most support women’s right to decide whether or not to have a child at a given time, but are critical of basing this decision on the traits of the particular embryo or fetus.



Genes Are Overratedby Nathaniel ComfortThe AtlanticJune 1st, 2016The discovery of DNA wasn’t predestined, nor does it dictate our destiny—and current ideas about it may die.
Forgotten Stories of the Eugenic Age #5: Creating Super-Peopleby Natalie OveyssiBiopolitical TimesMay 23rd, 2016Advocates of eugenics in the early twentieth century thought that careful mating would produce smarter, stronger, better people. What would these people look like? How would they behave? What kind of society would they form? Could making a better world be so simple?
Should Women Be Able to Abort a Fetus Just Because It’s Female?by Emma GreenThe AtlanticMay 16th, 2016A new wave of state legislation prohibits the termination of a pregnancy based on sex, race, and genetic abnormality.
Orphan Black emphasizes the science in its sci-fi with a disturbing chapter on eugenicsby Caroline FramkeVoxMay 15th, 2016TV show tackles the personal, scientific, and societal implications of eugenics, gene editing, and germline engineering.
The disturbing thing that happens when you tell people they have different DNAby Ana SwansonWonkblog [The Washington Post]May 13th, 2016A new study suggests emphasizing essential differences based on genetics can encourage aggression between groups and stir support for war.
Is academic achievement written into your DNA? It’s complicatedby Sharon BegleySTATMay 11th, 2016Altogether 74 genes explain less than .05% of differences in education levels; behavioral genetics has long been notorious for claiming complex behaviors are the inevitable product of inherited genes.
Meet The Scientists Fighting For More Studies On Genes And Racial Differences In Healthby Peter AldhousBuzzFeedMay 11th, 2016Many question if medicine should seek genetic differences based on a social construct like race, diverting research away from environmental health impacts.
Should We Synthesize A Human Genome?by Drew Endy and Laurie ZolothDSpace@MITMay 10th, 2016In response to a proposal issued at a closed-door meeting at Harvard, Endy and Zoloth raise some ethical challenges to the synthesis of a human genome.
As China’s one-child policy ends, surrogacy services rise in the U.S.by Kevin SmithSan Gabriel Valley TribuneApril 30th, 2016“I’ve been contacted by 15 to 18 agencies out of China... 90 percent of them don’t have any patients. They’re just new agencies trying to make a buck."
With CRISPR in Humans On the Horizon, Will the Public Back Intellia?by Alex LashXconomyApril 29th, 2016Intellia and Editas both lack what so many biotech investors crave: data from human clinical trials. As they race to the clinic, it's hard to tell if either company will pay off.
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