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Long-awaited legislation raises moral dilemmas


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Confirmation that the State will help fund couples to choose the sex of their baby to avoid having a child with a serious genetic disease will open up new concerns that we are on a moral slippery slope.

Are we moving nearer an era of so-called designer babies?

The current abortion debate has already led to questions about the potential termination of a pregnancy in cases where a baby will be born with a disability.

But also coming down the line is the first legislation regulating fertility treatments.

It will allow for "sex selection", with strict safeguards to screen out inherited conditions by giving parents the choice of a boy or girl.

The practical effect is that it will mean embryos will be tested to determine the gender and some not used.

Only the healthy embryo will be implanted.

The technique, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, is already available in some private clinics and once the law is in place it will have the advantage of regulating this practice.

But for many the pace of development in assisted reproduction techniques is bringing a "consumerist" approach to having a baby.

Others will argue this technique will reduce abortions and prevent termination during pregnancy if parents discover their child will be born with a serious condition.

Much of the focus of this long-awaited legislation has been on funding and how much the State will pay towards costly fertility treatments.

However, other aspects have gone largely under the radar.

The law will allow for embryos to be donated to research. This can be carried out on surplus embryos but only with the consent of parents.

However, it again will lead to unease. When does human life begin?

Many will be disturbed that embryos are seen simply as "biological matter". Others will argue that an embryo is a mere grouping of cells and does not have an inherent capability of becoming a human being.

Research is providing valuable insights into the prevention and treatment of disease.

What is not at issue is that much of this proposed legislation covering fertility treatment is needed and delayed for too long.

Checks and balances will be in place to ensure there is more accountability by fertility clinics which will be licensed and have to answer to an overall regulatory authority.

As it is, there is no clear timetable for its introduction to the Oireachtas and we are still at the general scheme stage.

It will need to go back to the Attorney General for further consideration and refinement during the drafting process.

What it does signal, along with other contentious matters such as abortion, is that we are entering an era when, on an individual level, we must confront major moral dilemmas.

Irish Independent