The ethics committee of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology on Tuesday approved for the first time genetic diagnosis of fertilized eggs prior to implantation, society officials said.
The approval centers on an application by Keio University to diagnose fertilized eggs for a married couple in which the wife carries the Duchenne muscular dystrophy trait, the officials said.
However, the committee’s decision, pending final approval by the society’s board of directors on July 23, is likely to draw accusations that it will lead to selective breeding.
Doctors in Japan are in principle restricted from conducting pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which scans in vitro-fertilized eggs for genetic diseases and only implants healthy eggs into the mother’s wombs. The society gives exceptional consideration in cases of serious hereditary diseases.
The case in question fulfills the society’s requirements because Duchenne, the most common form of muscular dystrophy affecting children, usually results in death in the late teens to early 20s and is characterized by rapid progression of muscle degeneration.
As a condition for approval, the committee wants the doctors to obtain consent again from the couple after explaining to them the alternative of gene therapy for muscular dystrophy.
A doctor in Kobe said in February he had conducted genetic diagnosis of fertilized eggs to select the baby’s gender. He did so without the society’s approval and has since been expelled from the society.
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis has been applied clinically worldwide since the 1990s. An estimated 700 to 1,000 babies have been born using the method.