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Call for ban on first cousin marriages

18 November 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 335

A British politician has said that marriages between first cousins should be outlawed because of the increased risk of genetic disorders in their children. Ann Cryer, the MP for Keighley, Bradford, told the BBC's Newsnight programme that British Asians should be persuaded to abandon the tradition. A report commissioned by Ms Cryer showed that babies born to British Pakistani couples make up just 3.4 per cent of all births, but account for 30 per cent of all children affected by recessive genetic conditions.

Ms Cryer described the risk of genetic disorders in children of first cousin marriages as 'a public health issue', like smoking, drinking and obesity. 'I think the same should be applied to this problem in the Asian community', she told the BBC, adding 'they must adopt a different lifestyle. They must look outside the family for husbands and wives for their young people'. In Bradford, it is estimated that more than three quarters of all British Pakistani marriages are between first cousins.

Consanguineous marriages are common in many cultures, where they are viewed as having many social benefits. Such couples may seek genetic counselling, since they are at increased risk of having a child affected by a recessive disorder - conditions that affect people who inherit two copies of a particular mutated gene, one from each parent. Although it is thought that everyone carries several recessive disease genes, most do not affect a person's health, because their effects are masked by a normal copy.

The more closely related two people are, the more likely they are to carry copies of the same mutated gene. Unrelated parents have around a two per cent risk of having a child with a severe genetic condition, while in first cousins this risk rises to five per cent. So on average, 95 per cent of the children of first cousins will be healthy, although the risk of a recessive disorder increases if there is a family tradition of such marriages. In addition, certain disorders are more common in some populations - for example cystic fibrosis in people of white European origin and thalassaemia in people of Asian and Mediterranean descent.

Ban Asian marriages of cousins, says MP
The Daily Telegraph |  16 November 2005
Consanguinity: A leaflet for parents who are related
Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust |  1 June 2004
The risks of cousin marriage
BBC News Online |  16 November 2005
6 June 2011 - by Professor Alan Bittles 
Not having been in the audience for Professor Steve Jones' John Maddox Lecture at the Hay Festival 2011 - distance and the lack of an invitation being my excuses - I have had to rely on reports on its content in the press. And according to the testament of Jonathan Wynne-Jones, religious affairs correspondent of the Telegraph, a highly entertaining event it seems to have been...
6 September 2010 - by Anshu Rastogi 
'When Cousins Marry' (Dispatches) was a difficult film to make. It was painful at times but immensely rewarding in the end. The film was commissioned because it highlighted a potentially avoidable cause of serious disabilities in hundreds of British children each year...
10 May 2010 - by Victoria Kay 
Charles Darwin's concerns that his children's ill health was due to his cousin marriage were justified, according to a new study. The UK-Spanish study, which analysed four generations of Darwin's family, provides statistical evidence of a link between ill health and the degree of inbreeding in his and his wife's families....
22 March 2010 - by Professor Marcus Pembrey 
A report and analysis promoting Baroness Ruth Deech's views on cousin marriage, published in the Times newspaper on Saturday, makes some serious errors and does nothing to either clarify the true health impact of cousin marriage or help couples at risk of recessive genetic conditions...
22 March 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
A leading bioethics professor and crossbench peer is to reignite the debate on the genetic risks of marriage between first cousins...
12 December 2005 - by Alastair Kent and Dr Pritti Mehta 
British Pakistanis are under the spotlight yet again, this time not for alleged links with terrorism, but for the practice of cousin marriage. Last week in BioNews, Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Bradford, re-presented her case against cousin marriage. This followed the 'Newsnight' special report (16 November) highlighting that British...
5 December 2005 - by Dr Aamra Darr 
The recent Newsnight programme (broadcast on BBC2, on 16 November) on cousin marriage attempted to deal with a complex health issue, involving the marriage preference of a minority ethnic group, genetic risk, lay and professional understanding of this risk and the attempts to deal with it. Genetics is a relatively...
1 December 2005 - by Ann Cryer MP 
In 2002, 42.2 per cent of all births in Bradford were to families of Pakistani origin, and a further 5.8 per cent were to others from the Indian subcontinent. The incidence of deafness amongst Asian children in Bradford is 4.60/1000 (compared with 1.38/1000 amongst non-Asian children). For cerebral...
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