, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 221-228,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 29 Dec 2011

Preconception care and genetic risk: ethical issues

Abstract

Preconception care to address genetic risks in reproduction may be offered either individually to couples with a known or suspected increased risk of having a child with a genetic disorder, or systematically to couples or individuals of reproductive age. The identification of couples at risk of transmitting a (serious) genetic disorder allows those couples to refrain from having children or to adapt their reproductive plans (using prenatal or preimplantation diagnosis, donor gametes, or adoption). Ethical issues concern the possible objectives of providing these options through preconception genetic counseling or screening, objections to abortion and embryo-selection, concerns about eugenics and medicalization, and issues arising in the professional–client relationship and/or in the light of the normative framework for population screening. Although enhancing reproductive autonomy rather than prevention should be regarded as the primary aim of preconception care for genetic risks, directive counseling may well be acceptable in exceptional cases, and prevention in the sense of avoiding serious suffering may be an appropriate objective of specific community-based preconception screening programmes. The seemingly unavoidable prospect of comprehensive preconception screening raises further ethical issues.

Special Issue: Genetic Aspects of Preconception Consultation in Primary Care