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About Genetic Selection


Genetic selection procedures are done either on fetuses, through prenatal screening, or on embryos that are outside a woman’s body, through Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

PGD tests embryos for the presence of genetic sequences linked to a variety of conditions and characteristics. A cell is extracted from an embryo at its eight-cell stage and analyzed. Embryos with the selected characteristics can be implanted in a woman's uterus to develop into a child. The procedure does not appear to affect embryos’ or fetuses’ subsequent development, though more follow-up studies of children born after PGD are needed.


Frequently Asked Questions

Arguments Pro & Con

PGD was developed to allow couples at risk of passing on a serious genetic disease to have children not affected by it. Since its introduction in 1990, it has been most widely used to prevent the birth of children with conditions such as Down's syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, Huntington's chorea, and Cooley's anemia.

However, PGD is increasingly being used for other reasons. These include social sex selection, creating “savior siblings” who can provide bone marrow or other transplant tissues to sick older siblings, and selecting against embryos with genes correlated with late-onset and non-fatal conditions. Some clinics have even offered the technique for purely cosmetic traits including eye color, hair color, and skin complexion.

A newer variation of PGD, called Preimplantation Genetic Haplotyping, allows for many more genes to be tested, and for greater accuracy.

Many disability rights advocates, in particular, have been critical of PGD and prenatal screening. They point out that the definition of "disease" is to some extent subjective. Most support women’s right to decide whether or not to have a child at a given time, but are critical of basing this decision on the traits of the particular embryo or fetus.



Stars, Bars, and Embryosby Emma ManiereBiopolitical TimesJuly 28th, 2015Controversies about the confederate flag and prenatal genetic testing are far more complex than "choice" and "intent" suggest.
Slipping Into Eugenics? Nathaniel Comfort on the History Behind CRISPRby Elliot HosmanBiopolitical TimesJuly 23rd, 2015A historian unravels the social and political context of genetic research and eugenics in the United States.
This Company Is Trying To Make More Perfect Babiesby Azeen GhorayshiBuzzFeedJuly 12th, 2015As startup GenePeeks partners with a fertility clinic to screen egg donors for nearly 450 genetic changes linked to disease, critics worry about an emerging market for designer babies.
Eliminating Intersex Babies Is not a Legitimate Use of Genetic Embryo Testingby Celeste OrrThe GuardianJuly 11th, 2015Using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select against embryos with culturally devalued bodies, like intersex people and people with disabilities, is simply a contemporary example of eugenics.
Ethics of Gene Editing[with CGS's Marcy Darnovsky]by Betty RollinKQED Religion & Ethics NewsweeklyJuly 2nd, 2015Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society discusses possible consequences of human germline gene editing for future generations.
Pre-Implantation Diagnosis to be Allowedby Jeannie WurzSwissInfo [Switzerland]June 14th, 2015About 62% of Swiss voters have said yes to genetic screening of embryos before implantation in a woman’s uterus.
The Bioethics of Genetic Diversityby Xavier SymonsBioEdgeJune 6th, 2015The ethical issues surrounding the protection of genetic variation in a population are examined.
CIRM Pursues “Prudent Path” Forward with Genome Editing Technologiesby Jonathan ThomasThe Stem CellarJune 1st, 2015CIRM Board Chair Jonathan Thomas will convene a public workshop on genome editing technologies this November.
Reframing "De-extinction" by Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesMay 28th, 2015Beth Shapiro is advocating for a new definition of "de-extinction" that stresses the ecological niche over genetic identity. She envisages using novel creatures to change entire ecologies.
Academies Wrestle with Germline Editing[Quotes CGS's Marcy Darnovsky]by Alex PhilippidisGenetic Engineering & Biotechnology NewsMay 27th, 2015“We need many Asilomar-type meetings" and participants should include "both scholars and non-scholars — people from public interest organizations of different kinds, labor unions, community groups, and church groups."
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