By Fiona Macrae
Couples are to be offered a simple test to stop them passing on any of more than 100 genetic diseases to their children.
The £700 kit, which could be available in weeks, is billed as having the power to eliminate illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anaemia.
But experts warned the simple test was unnecessary and could lead to ‘back door eugenics’.
Parents would be able to ask for embryos to be screened out through IVF treatment or abortion if they were at risk of passing on a serious disease.
The test’s inventors, who plan to sell it online and through a fertility clinic, say it can protect children from the pain and indignity of serious and incurable diseases.
Those with a family history of conditions such as cystic fibrosis are already entitled to screening on the Health Service.
But the new test from Californian company Counsyl will inform families about the risks of scores of other diseases, including some which affect fewer than ten babies a year.
Couples planning to have children would give saliva samples which are then screened for the genetic mutations behind 109 diseases.
If both parents have a single copy of a mutant gene, their children have a one in four chance of being ill. Aside from IVF screening they could go for sperm or egg donation or adoption.
Some women may opt for a genetic test in pregnancy and choose an abortion if their baby does have the rogue genes.
Counsyl says that while each individual disease is rare, one in three people will carry the DNA for at least one of the 109.
Frances Flinter, a genetic testing expert from London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and a member of the Government’s Human Genetics Commission, said claims of eliminating genetic disease had a ‘very eugenic flavour’.
She said: ‘It is important to remember that some people carrying genetic diseases would not want testing.
‘People who are affected by some of these genetic diseases would find a phrase and approach that suggests they aim to eradicate them as very offensive and I can understand why.’