Parliament: MOH re-looking no-go for genetic screening of embryos in IVF

Babies in a nursery at Thomson Medical Centre.
Babies in a nursery at Thomson Medical Centre. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) is re-looking the issue of pre-implant screening of embryos used in in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Doctors have long urged the ministry to allow such screening, since chromosomal abnormalities account for more than half the miscarriages that occur.

Screening for such abnormalities could significantly raise the chances of successful births, and reduce the suffering parents go through.

Replying to two questions on the subject raised in Parliament on Thursday (Nov 10), Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, said the ministry is "reviewing the clinical effectiveness of pre-implantation genetic screening and its ethical implications".

She added that the National University Hospital (NUH) will start a three year trial on this early next year.

To Mr Louis Ng's (Nee Soon GRC) query about the criteria for participating in the trial, she said these are being worked out and will be available closer to the date of commencement.

Dr Khor explained that though the MOH had received requests for such screening to raise the chances of conception, the ministry had previously not granted approval "as the published evidence had been unclear".

She added: "In recent years, however, newer technologies for pre-implantation genetic screening have emerged and some jurisdictions have now allowed pre-implantation genetic screening".

Countries where such screening is practised include the United States, Australia, Britain and Malaysia.

Here, it is only allowed if parents are known to have an inheritable disease such as thalassemia.

Dr Khor said the MOH will consult stakeholders and the public, and will look into ethical concerns.

She said: "We will need to ensure that embryos are not eliminated solely based on parental preferences on characteristics such as gender."