Last week, University College London announced that a baby in the UK was born after being tested and screened for a genetic form of breast cancer. Slate’s national correspondent William Saletan does a fine job highlighting the euphemisms and subtle implications present in the announcement:
This baby was tested as an embryo in a dish. She was one of 11 such embryos made by injecting drugs in the mother to stimulate production of excess eggs, which were then fertilized with the father’s sperm. Six of the embryos had the gene for breast cancer. Three more had “other abnormalities.” All nine were “discarded.” The other two were implanted, and one became this baby.
In sum, at least six human embryos were made and then thrown away because they failed a test. We now call such tests “preconception.” This is the next step in our gradual devaluation of embryos. First, we said IVF embryos weren’t pregnancies. That’s technically correct: Pregnancy begins when the embryo implants in the womb. Then we called early embryos “pre-embryos” so we could dismantle them to get stem cells. That was technically incorrect, but we did it because it made us feel better. Now we’re adjusting the word conception. Henceforth, testing of IVF embryos to decide which will live or die is preconception. Don’t fret about the six eggs we fertilized, rejected, and flushed in selecting this baby. They were never really conceived. In fact, they weren’t embryos. According to Serhal, each was just “an affected cluster of cells. ”
For more on the media’s handling of this story, check out E.E. Evans’ article at GetReligion.org