Tuesday, July 06, 2010

German Federal Court on PID

Imagine my surprise when I read in today's paper about a judgment from Germany's Federal Court in a case determining the legality or otherwise of pre-implantation diagnosis. Just so you get the significance of this, here's a blurb from Wikipedia about the relevance of the Federal Court in Germany's legal pecking order: 'The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (German: Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) is the highestcourt in the system of ordinary jurisdiction (ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit) in Germany. It is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of criminal and private law. A decision handed down by the BGH can only be reversed by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in rare cases when the Constitutional Court rules on constitutionality (compatibility with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany).'

The Court determined that it is OK to check for serious genetic defects of embryos prior to implantation in couple with known serious genetic illnesses. In one of the cases the woman considering conceiving another child had already given birth to a disabled daughter, another woman went thru three failed pregnancies. It goes without saying that embryos that are non implanted after PID took place (ie after serious genetic defects have been diagnosed) will be destroyed.

Critics have trotted out the usual stuff like that this discriminates against the disabled, and that this takes us on a slippery slope to designer babies (ie selection in favor of blue eyed kids was mentioned). It is true that the court judgment takes a clear stance on the former issue. If at the embryonic stage it is possible to make a choice between a future seriously disabled child and a healthy (healthier) child, the latter is preferable and it is up to pregnant women to decline the implantation of the embryo known to be defective. On the latter issue, currently such choices would not be covered by the judgment, but frankly, what if someone chose blue eyes over brown eyes, or brown eyes over blue eyes, what danger would this really entail? If someone - like me - subscribes to the ethical stance (as I do) that women are very much entitled to make reproductive choices entailing abortions, for any reason or none, why should it matter that they decline the implantation of an embryo with the wrong eye color?

I do think my progressive friends need to think carefully about whether or not they support unconditionally a woman's right to make reproductive choices. If they do, the above mentioned slippery slope arguments must not faze them.


  1. ps, I've tried to fix the few obvious infelicities in this post - alas, the format of the post is completely stuffed in editing mode, so I can't fix em. Apologies. Udo

  2. my colleague Annette Burfoot asked me to post this on her behalf: I disagree. I think the issue is what we choose to do, socially, in terms of designing and supporting socio-technical systems (which includes jurisprudence). I am anti gun and pro gun registration for example, not because I cannot imagine people who use guns responsibly - I have shot several myself. But because a social system where guns are readily available AND where there is a culture of acceptable rage, violence and narcissism (which includes the American notion of right to defend one's property and individual safety, in my opinion) makes for a dangerous mix to the society. Check the numbers.

    I don't see any slope - we are already there in terms of racism. I don't see why we need to design and support socio-technical systems that perpetuate racialization. I do see the need to check against the use of PID for racist purposes. Ablism is more difficult for me. When I went through the adoption process, I chose not to adopt a child with disabilities. If I had been pregnant, I probably would have had amniocentesis to check for Downs syndrome and spina bifida. The law is an instrument refined enough to make these distinctions.

  3. AnonymousJuly 14, 2010

    The problem I see is less eye colour, it's the dignity of man (Article 1 of German Basic Law: The dignity of man is not to be touched).

    So if it is legal to count embryos that lead to disabled children as less worth than "healthy" embryos, this does indeed touch the dignity of man.

    This isn't just discrimination of a single disabled person, this is discrimination of disability itself.

  4. this is kind of question begging. once you define what the 'dignity of man' consists of we'd be able to evaluate your claim. in the absence of that it's all a bit wooly.


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