Private firms are using Down's syndrome tests to reveal a baby’s gender as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy
Genetic testing during pregnancy is driving an ‘arms race’ in the search for the perfect designer baby, experts have warned.
A breakthrough in technology has meant babies with even minor genetic flaws can be identified early in pregnancy.
Tests are already available on the NHS to accurately identify unborn children with Down’s syndrome and other major genetic conditions.
But private firms are also using the tests to reveal the baby’s gender as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy.
Experts are worried this could lead to a surge of abortions on the basis of the unborn child’s sex.
A report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics today warns about the use of ‘selective terminations’ and says that in future any child with a problem as mild as an allergy may be seen as undesirable.
And it warned of mounting concerns that highlighting genetic flaws ‘amounts to eugenics’.
The report last night fuelled a growing row over the approval last year of the use on the NHS of a new generation of accurate blood tests for Down’s, Edwards’ or Patau’s syndromes.
These ‘non-invasive prenatal tests’ - known as NIPT - are offered between nine and 13 weeks of pregnancy, usually at the same time as the 12-week scan.
The tests, which are to be rolled out across the NHS by 2018, have been welcomed by many doctors because they are 99 per cent accurate and promise to reduce the risk of miscarriages linked to the invasive amniocentesis test, previously the only way of accurately diagnosing Down’s.
But many campaigners are uneasy with the development, the report authors said.
‘Introducing NIPT in the NHS could lead to an increase in the number of terminations following a diagnosis of Down’s, Edwards’ or Patau’s syndrome,’ they wrote.
Tests are available on the NHS to accurately identify unborn children with Down’s syndrome and other major genetic conditions
‘Some believe this amounts to eugenics.’
The authors called for a moratorium on the use of NIPT tests for anything other than the three syndromes for which it is available on the NHS.
They said some firms are offering to sequence the entire genome of an unborn child - a ‘fishing expedition’ for any minor genetic imperfection or allergy.
They wrote: ‘There seems to be an “arms race” in the private sector with some marketing NIPT as a 99 per cent accurate test for all sorts of conditions for which it is either much less accurate or, in the case of whole genome sequencing, where it would not tell people anything about the implications.’
They warned that in time wealthy parents might be able to use the tests ‘to further [their] aspirations for “designer babies”’.
There seems to be an “arms race” in the private sector with some marketing NIPT as a