Embryos at risk of disease can pass clinic tests, parents warned

Sydney Morning Herald January 22, 2008
THE genetic testing of embryos at risk of developing deadly diseases is not foolproof, and all parents should be extensively counselled on the risks, experts say. The warning yesterday came after a couple declared that they were suing a Melbourne fertility clinic because pre-implantation genetic testing had failed to pick up that their son was carrying an inherited cancer gene. They are suing for damages to cover hospital and medical expenses for their son’s entire life and for the cost of rearing a child without the gene.

Embryos, grown in laboratories, are usually tested when they are three days old and made up of about eight cells, but some clinics wait until the embryo is five days old and has more than 100 cells, giving the test greater accuracy. Cells can be checked for up to 100 diseases such as Huntington’s, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome, sparing couples the trauma of a termination if the embryo is later found to be carrying a deadly gene.

But a fertility specialist at IVF Australia, Michael Chapman, said yesterday the technology was not foolproof and any patient wanting it needed to have two hour-long sessions of counselling with a genetic counsellor to make sure they understood the risks. “It’s all about the counselling. People need to understand that even with our best endeavours, there is a possibility it may not be accurate.”