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A "repugnant" new test could screen out less intelligent IVF embryos

16 November 2018


Babies could be chosen based on genetic indications of intelligence.

An IVF doctor says this isn't designer babies

Genetic tests have long made it possible to screen out embryos with conditions such as cystic fibrosis or Down's syndrome. Now, a new way of testing an embryo's genes could make it possible to discard them for not being intelligent enough.

Genomic Prediction, a company based in New Jersey, says it has developed genetic tests that can assess complex traits, such as the risk of some diseases and low intelligence. The tests haven’t been used yet, but the firm began talks last month with several IVF clinics with a view to providing them to customers.

"Mental disability"

While such a test can't predict IQ for each embryo, it can, apparently, indicate certain genetic outliers, allowing parents to avoid embryos with a high chance of an IQ 25 points below average.. While the company says it will only offer screening based on intelligence for cases of "mental disability", co-founder Stephen Hsu claims the technique could be used to identify embryos with a likelihood of having a high IQ. "I think people are going to demand that," he said. "If we don’t do it, some other company will."

Peter Visscher, a geneticist  at the University of Queensland, Australia, says that the idea of using such tests to select embryos predicted to have high intelligence is "repugnant, but technologically feasible."

A health issue?

In the UK, screening embryos for polygenic (multi-gene) conditions isn’t currently allowed. However, some IVF doctors would like this to change. Simon Fishel, president of the Care Fertility Group clinics in the UK, called the tests " a potential revolution", and said he saw no reason why this would be a slippery slope to designer babies. "Cognitive disability is a health issue. We’re not talking about whether we need to make more intelligent people in society."

It could soon be possible to choose children based on likely IQ level, while destroying others who fail to 'qualify'. That IVF doctors are already claiming this is a "health" issue - though in fact any embryo 'deselected' would be killed - tells us much about what has happened to the practice of medicine.

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