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In a conscience vote held Thursday, the German parliament approved the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a procedure in which one or two cells are extracted from a developing embryo in order to test for genetic disorders, according to Reuters reports.

In their July 7 article, Thorsten Severin and Eric Kelsey report that the newly approved legislation "will allow screening embryos of parents who have a predisposition to severe genetic disorders, where a pregnancy would be likely to result in either stillbirth or miscarriage. Existing German law did not fully regulate PGD and the German high court last year ruled that parliament should take up the issue with respect to serious genetic defects."

PGD has been a hot-button issue, in part because some believe that it could ultimately lead to the creation of a "designer baby." The issue "has divided governments around the world," Severin and Kelsey said, adding that "many people" oppose its use "on religious and ethical grounds."

According to Reuters, Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party, told ARD television that the concern that PGD would be used to create a child "which would be musically gifted or athletic or have blue eyes" was nothing more than a "fantasy."

Conversely, Wolfgang Thierse from the opposition Social Democrats, argued that while the screening could, in the words of the Reuters reporters, "prevent suffering in individual cases," that he believed that it would also "violate a person's right to life."

Likewise, the reporters say that PGD opponents suggest that the use of the procedure could have a negative influence on diversity, sociologically speaking.

"Under the new law, parents will have to undergo counseling and an ethics panel must approve the procedure to select a developing embryo that tests negative for certain anomalies before it is implanted in the womb," Severin and Kelsey said.

According to the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) website, during PGD, once the cell or cells are removed from the embryo, which typically happens three to four days after fertilization, its genetic material is analyzed in order to predict the risk of a disease or genetic disorder. RHTP reports that the procedure is becoming "increasingly common" in in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, and is recommended for women over the age of 35.

"PGD is a powerful tool that may allow parents to identify and select only the embryos that possess the genetic characteristics they may desire in their children," the organization's website states. "The fundamental societal questions are whether and under what conditions PGD should be used."

"For those who categorically oppose manipulation or destruction of human embryos, PGD is never appropriate because it necessarily involves one or both," RHTP added. "But, even here, it is important to distinguish between personal preference and policy preference. Public opinion research... has shown that some people who would never themselves consider PGD do not necessarily support policy prohibiting others from using it. There are also those who may find PGD appropriate when used to detect certain serious medical conditions but have reservations about its use for other purposes."