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Is Preimplantation Genetic Screening Ethical?

PFCLA
21 Sep 2021

There are a lot of ethics questions and misinformation surrounding preimplantation genetic screening (PGS), a service that’s available during the IVF process. Let's unpack what it actually is and how it can benefit intended parents in their family-building journey.

PGS is, in fact, a fantastic way to create a healthy, happy baby. It also occurs before the embryo transfer process, so this is not a selective abortion.

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What is Preimplantation Genetic Screening?

During IVF, eggs are harvested and fertilized with sperm in the laboratory. These embryos are then cultured for five to six days, reaching the blastocyst stage.

At this stage, the embryologist will remove a small number of cells from the pre-placenta area. These cells can then be screened for known or specific genetic abnormalities, typically ones associated with your family or ethnicity, although tests can also be done for abnormal chromosome numbers. The test is designed for each couple, and this can take several months before the cycle. Healthy embryo(s) can then be chosen and implanted into your or your surrogate's uterus.

The cell harvesting carries no damage or risk to the embryo.

Preimplantation Genetic Screening Ethics

So, is PGS ethical? Its purpose is to ensure a healthy baby with a strong future. It also reduces the risk of health issues for the birth parent or surrogate, helping to support an easy pregnancy and give you extra peace of mind.

PGS cannot catch all potential health issues with your baby, but we can screen for the most common and pay particular attention to risks which might be associated with your family or ethnicity, such as cystic fibrosis. PGS is commonly used to detect mutations which are not compatible with life that would have resulted in miscarriage.

It's also worth remembering that it is common for embryos to be discarded as part of the IVF process, as generally more are created than needed. Therefore, if you have an objection to discarding embryos, it might be better to seek another fertility option altogether. With PGS, the embryos discarded are individuals with genetic issues, in some cases issues that would affect viability.

In other words, PGS is an ethical option to safely expand your family. Some people may also use PGS to select a child of a certain gender either to balance their family, or if they are carrying a genetic disease that affects one gender more than the other. Overall, the choice to use PGS is a personal one that every couple should make for themselves and their future family.

Who is Preimplantation Genetic Screening For?

Not every couple needs PGS. You should consider it if you are advised to do so by a genetic counselor, but you may want to use PGS if:

  • One or both of you has a history of heritable genetic disorders.
  • One or both of you carries a chromosomal anomaly.
  • The eggs are coming from an individual aged 35 or older, which increases the risk of Down Syndrome. Generally, donor eggs are harvested from younger people to avoid this.
  • You are seeking IVF because of a history of recurring miscarriages and failure to carry to term.

However, it is available to any intended parent who feels that it would give them peace of mind. As one of our intended (now) parents, Ron puts it, "Knowing what we know now about our results of the PGS, we're like, 'Thank God we did PGS,' because some of our embryos didn't pass. Embryo screening is critical to make sure your IVF cycle is successful, and we now strongly recommend it to all of our friends who go through the IVF process."

The purpose of PGS is to ensure a healthy baby and a positive journey towards building your family. Want to learn more about PGS? Check out our recent blog on all its pros and cons.

Note: This is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information provided is for general educational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. Speak to your doctor directly with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Any information contained herein does not replace any care plan as determined by a physician. 

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