A directional decision

After many months of positioning the camps, the Bundestag will finally deal with pre-implantation diagnostics (PGD) on Thursday. Not only the Catholic Church, which rejects PGD in principle, expects a directional decision on the evaluation of human life at the end of the debate.

"For the first time we have a situation where at the beginning there is a decision which life is worth living and which is not."For former Health Minister Ulla Schmidt (SPD), the parliament faces a fundamental directional decision on the ie of genetic testing of embryos. In this method, doctors can test embryos in the test tube for certain characteristics, such as genetic damage, hereditary diseases or even sex. Until now, PGD was considered prohibited in Germany. However, the Federal Supreme Court surprisingly ruled last July that this is not generally true. Thus the legislator is challenged.

The members of parliament want to take two and a half hours to debate three bills. Since the ie is ethically explosive, there is no factional constraint. This is how deputies from different parties carry the respective motions. They have already canvassed in advance for support for their bills among other members of parliament, not least because the speaking time is determined by the number of supporters.

Entry into a screening process
According to information from the Catholic News Agency (KNA), the representatives of a strict ban around the members of parliament Johannes Singhammer (CSU), Ulla Schmidt and Katrin Goring-Eckhardt (Greens) were able to find about 190 supporters for their motion. With just over
200 signatures, the group of MPs Peter Hintze (CDU) and Ulrike Flach (FDP) that wants to allow PGD to go further is slightly ahead. It seeks an allowance of the method in couples who have a "high probability" of inheriting a serious disease. In addition, PGD should be allowed to detect severe damage to the embryo "that is highly likely to result in a stillbirth or miscarriage". Critics see this as the beginning of screening.

The somewhat more restrictive draft of the deputies around Rene Rospel (SPD), Norbert Lammert (CDU) and Priska Hinz (Greens) wants to allow diagnostics only for parents whose offspring, due to a genetic disposition, "with a high probability will result in damage to the embryo, fetus or child that can lead to stillbirth or miscarriage or death in the first year of life". This proposal, which was initially seen as a compromise, only just passed the quorum with around 35 signatures.

Unrestricted right to life of the embryo
The proponents of limited gestation thus argue above all for the possible suffering of parents with hereditary predispositions. The supporters of the ban, on the other hand, claim the unrestricted right to life of the embryo. "The decision to implant an embryo specifically selected according to certain criteria touches the dignity of the human being," the bill states. The Catholic Church also supports this position, while there are different opinions among Protestants.

According to estimates of the proponents of genetic testing, a total of about 200 cases per year are involved. However, PGD is successful in only 20 percent of cases and offers no guarantee of a healthy child. The high demand for embryos is also problematic. So far, only three embryos may be created in artificial insemination and then implanted. At least seven signatures are needed for PGD. Most of them are "rejected. What exactly should or may be done with them – whether they are destroyed, frozen, given up for adoption or used for scientific purposes – would still have to be regulated by the legislature.

With selection, the core of the problem is touched: the status of the embryo. According to Wolfgang Bockenforde and Christian Hillgruber, the fusion of a sperm and an egg cell also constitutes human life in legal terms – which is "not subject to the power of disposal of third parties, even if it is that of its parents," according to Hillgruber. For the jurists, PGD is thus in contradiction with the catch.

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