First Step towards Allowing Designer Babies; RELAXATION OF RULES ON EMBRYO SCREENING AS FERTILITY LAWS OVERHAULED

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Byline: ISABEL OAKESHOTT

AN OVERHAUL of Britain's outdated fertility laws today paves the way for designer babies.

Ministers are preparing to unveil proposals for a dramatic relaxation of the rules surrounding embryo screening.

Fertility specialists, and some patients, argue that the current laws are far too strict.

A consultation document, to be presented by health minister Caroline Flint today, is expected to be a major step towards doctors being able to weed out "undesirable" embryos created in laboratories.

It follows intense pressure from doctors and patients to update fertility laws, drawn up in the Nineties.

Critics argue rules have failed to keep pace with huge scientific advances in fertility treatment.

Experts are now able to test embryos for a string of disabilities and characteristics. Proposals to relax the rules on the process will focus on screening for medical abnormalities or tissue typing.

Although today's consultation will stop short of suggesting that clinics be allowed to screen embryos for physical characteristics such as eye colour, any moves to relax the law will be fiercely opposed by pro-life campaigners and some religious groups.

However, fertility experts say current regulations are causing unnecessary heartache for childless couples and stifling research.

Today's long awaited consultation paper, which will "test the water" for changes in fertility laws, is also expected to call for equal access to fertility treatment for single women and lesbians, though not on the NHS. …