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cartoon children playing with lab equipment and staring in awe at a DNA double helix

As more people turn to in vitro fertilization for help with conceiving, a host of companies is capitalizing on the opportunity by offering screening services that allow hopeful parents to select embryos least likely to result in a baby with genetic abnormalities or life-threatening diseases.

But in a report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers is questioning the strength and ethical implications of such risk screening services, especially as some companies seem to be pushing beyond disease prediction to screen for traits such as cognitive ability.

The report underscores the concern among geneticists, legal scholars, and ethicists that applying genetic research to develop risk scores and select embryos might be imperfect and less robust than patients and companies think. The authors also outline strategies for companies and clinicians to use when communicating with parents seeking to use these tools.

“Risk scores being calculated should be taken with a very large grain of salt,” said I. Glenn Cohen, a professor at Harvard Law School who specializes in health law and bioethics and was not... see more