The Swiss cabinet wants to permit, within narrow limits, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a procedure which tests embryos before implantation.
Couples with certain serious hereditary disorders who use in vitro fertilisation (IVF) should be allowed to screen embryos prior to implantation and discard any which inherit a disorder, the cabinet said in a statement on Friday.
This procedure – currently forbidden in Switzerland – is ethically controversial because embryos with certain conditions or qualities could be discarded.
Swiss law allows gender selection of sperm only in cases in which one or both parents suffer from a genetic disease.
The cabinet estimates that 50-100 couples use PGD in Switzerland every year.
Ballot box decision
The potential for PGD extends beyond screening for hereditary diseases, but this use remains illegal.
For example, parents will not be able to choose a baby’s sex, test an embryo for Down’s Syndrome or have a so-called “designer baby” who might be able to help an ill brother or sister.
The cabinet also wants to enable the storage of embryos, but since these changes mean amending the law on reproductive medicine in the constitution, the Swiss people will have the final say.
Currently, after IVF all viable embryos must be planted in the womb, which often leads to twins or triplets – and the correspondingly higher risks for mother and children.
The cabinet wants to prevent this by storing additional embryos and implanting them later if necessary.
It also wants to look at whether compulsory health insurance should cover the costs of IVF and PGD. The latter at present costs CHF10,000-CHF20,000 ($10,700-$21,500).
swissinfo.ch and agencies