The Ethics of Embryonic Genetic Testing

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In the Jewish religion, before Jews of Ashkenazi (West European) descent marry, the couple in question are often advised by a rabbi or family member to undergo genetic testing, to determine in advance if the marrying couple are carriers of any genetic diseases that may be harmful to future children who are born. Today’s front page article in the New York Times (Feburary 4, 2014) discusses the issue of whether or not genetic testing is ethically and morally sound,

But the procedure also raises unsettling ethical questions that trouble advocates for the disabled and have left some doctors struggling with what they should tell their patients. When are prospective parents justified in discarding embryos? Is it acceptable, for example, for diseases like GSS, that develop in adulthood? What if a gene only increases the risk of a disease? And should people be able to use it to pick whether they have a boy or girl? A recent international survey found that 2 percent of more than 27,000 uses of preimplantation diagnosis were made to choose a child’s sex.

Despite ethical questions raised by religious leaders and concerned citizens,

In the United States, there are no regulations that limit the method’s use. The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, whose members provide preimplantation diagnosis, says it is “ethically justified” to prevent serious adult diseases for which “no safe, effective interventions are available.” The method is “ethically allowed” for conditions “of lesser severity” or for which the gene increases risk but does not guarantee a disease.

Israel’s Rabin Medical Center has been at the forefront of genetic testing, after the establishment of the Raphael Recanti Genetics Institute in 2007. Since then the Genetics Institute has become a premier institute for genetic testing and research in the Middle East. Extensive research and testing takes place among Israeli Arabs and also Orthodox Jews, both are groups with high dispositions towards the occurrence of genetic diseases because of the tendency among first cousins to marry.

The Raphael Recanti Genetics Institute at Israel's Rabin Medical Center
The Raphael Recanti Genetics Institute at Israel’s Rabin Medical Center

For more information about the Raphael Recanti Genetics Institute, visit

For the full New York Times article, visit

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