BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Berlin:
According to a study undertaken by German researchers, current legislation in Germany is 'out of step' with public attitudes towards the use of PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), egg donation and surrogacy. All of these assisted reproduction procedures are currently prohibited in Germany, but the researchers, based at Charite Berlin, the Berlin Fertility Centre and universities of Leipzig and Marburg, say that the law should be changed.
Dr Ada Borkenhagen and her colleagues gave PGD fact sheets and questionnaires to 200 infertile couples aged between 19 and 55, who attended the Berlin Fertility Centre between October 2003 and June 2004. Identical fact sheets and questionnaires were also given to 2110 members of the general population, aged between 18 and 50, during November 2003. The results showed that Germans were not generally well-informed about PGD or assisted reproduction procedures: they particularly tended to overestimate the diagnostic possibilities of PGD. But the results also showed that the majority (97 per cent of infertile couples and 80 per cent of the general population) thought that PGD should be allowed for the detection of genetic diseases in embryos.
High proportions of both groups questioned (99 and 97 per cent respectively) were against the use of PGD for either sex selection or 'social' (non-disease related) reasons. The demand for PGD was, unsurprisingly, higher among the infertile couples surveyed than in the general population. Eighty-three per cent of infertile couples said that they would want access to PGD technology if they needed it, while only 57 per cent of the general population said they would use the technique. Dr Borkenhagen said that the study showed a preference for PGD above the use of prenatal tests, which carry a risk of miscarriage and may lead to difficult choices about termination of pregnancy.
In relation to surrogacy and egg donation, the study showed that 63 per cent of infertile couples were in favour of the legalisation of surrogacy, compared to 44 per cent of the general population. The figures for egg donation were 90 per cent and 51 per cent respectively. Dr Borkenhagen said 'German legislators should consider changing the law so that it reflects public opinion on this issue', adding that the survey showed that people would not use PGD or other assisted reproduction technologies for 'eugenic' reasons.
Speaking at the ESHRE conference, a German professor said that the legacy of the Nazi regime is holding back the development of assisted reproduction. Professor Rolf Winau, from Charite Berlin, said that Germans must research the history of reproductive medicine during the Nazi era because, if they don't understand what motivated doctors in the past, they will 'struggle to make decisions about ethical issues that confront doctors and scientists working in gynaecology, embryology and reproduction today'.