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8-Humans: UK babies may be genetically screened

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TITLE:  UK babies may be genetically screened
SOURCE: Financial Times, UK, by David Firn
DATE:   Jun 24, 2003

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UK babies may be genetically screened

Every child born in the UK could be genetically screened and the data
stored to plan their future healthcare under government proposals for a
massive expansion of genetic testing. Advertisement

John Reid, the new Secretary of State for Health, said the UK was on the
threshold of a revolution in healthcare. "Increasing understanding of
genetics will bring more accurate diagnosis, more personalised prediction
of risk, new gene-based drugs and therapies and better targeted
prevention and treatment," he said.

The controversial proposal for testing newborn babies was announced in a
White Paper that promised 50m to expand the ability of the NHS to cope
with the rapid advance in genetic testing. It is likely to be studied by
the Human Genetics Commission, the government advisory group, as well as
the National Screening Committee before firm proposals are made on what
diseases would be tested for.

Dr Reid promised to make Down's syndrome testing available to every
pregnant woman, not just those over 37, by the end of 2005. He also
unveiled plans to fund more research into genetic diseases such as cystic
fibrosis and cancer and set up facilities to make gene therapy treatments
for the NHS.

Up to 18m will be injected into upgrading the NHS genetics laboratory
facilities in England. Other funds would be used to bring genetics into
mainstream medicine.

The proposals were welcomed by medical researchers, but opponents of
genetic testing said they raised the prospect of a world where
imperfection was illegal and a "genetic underclass" was unable to obtain
health insurance, jobs and mortgages.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, which funded the UK
contribution to the Human Genome Project, said effort was crucial if
Britain was to exploit the genome "We are delighted that the government
is making such a large financial commitment to translating human genome
information into real health care benefits. This effort complements our
own continuing investment in genome research and in projects like the UK
Biobank, which are of crucial importance if we are to exploit this
knowledge for the public good," he said.

Josephine Quintavalle of ProLife Alliance said the plans amounted to a
blueprint for weeding out physical imperfection. "We have to be very
careful. We don't have enough money to treat all the diseases we know
about, so who is going to get it? Inevitably it will be the healthy child."

The TUC called for safeguards to stop test results falling into the wrong
hands. "Some employers might be tempted to use DNA records as a
recruitment tool, and rule out employing any candidates whose profiles
didn't make the grade."

Dr Reid admitted there were "very real ethical and social concerns"
surrounding genetic advances but pledged safeguards . He promised to make
it a criminal offence to test a person's DNA without their consent. In
addition to an existing moratorium onthe use of genetic test results by
insurance companies, he said the government would consult with experts on
whether widespread testing would lead to discrimination.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

phone:  +49-531-5168746
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