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Time to choose the future

19 July 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 267

On 16 July, the UK's Human Genetics Commission (HGC) began a nationwide consultation into the role of genetics in reproductive decision making. The aim of the consultation, entitled 'Choosing the Future', is to gauge the range of public opinion on issues raised by the use of genetic tests in reproduction, such as what genetic disorders should be routinely tested for during pregnancy. The HGC's Working Group on Genetics and Reproductive Decision Making will present their findings to the Department of Health in the autumn of 2005.

To inform the debate, the HGC has published a discussion document, Genetics and Reproductive Decision Making. The document provides the history, status quo and potential future of the use of genetics in reproduction and poses several questions, to which the public are invited to respond. Members of a consultative panel, made up of people suffering from or caring for someone suffering from a genetic disorder, punctuate the publication with personal experiences and opinion.

'At the heart of the issue is where do we, as a society, strike the balance between individual needs and wants, [and] the wider social consequences of the decisions we make', said Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the HGC, who co-chairs the working group with Professor Martin Richards. Richards, of the Family Research Centre at Cambridge University, said that 'our eugenic history is important in this context'.

A spokesperson for LIFE, which claims to be the UK's eugenic leading pro-life organisation, said they hoped 'the consultation will reveal that most people now believe that things have gone too far', but assessing the prevalence of opinion is beyond the remit of this consultation. Instead the consultation seeks to find only the range of beliefs. Responses can be submitted by letter, fax, email and the Internet, with a deadline of 15 October 2004 (see Recommends for details). Launching the public consultation, Lady Kennedy said the HGC is 'keen to hear from as many people as possible'.

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