Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to be allowed in Switzerland

On June 5, 2016 a majority of Swiss voters (62.4%) approved a modification to the law for medically assisted reproduction to authorize “pre-implantation genetic diagnosis” (PGD), in spite of misgivings expressed by disabled persons’ associations.

PGD consists in sampling one or several cells from an embryo conceived in-vitro to perform DNA screening for genetically transmissible diseases. The aim is to test the embryos for genetic defects in order to implant in the woman’s uterus only those which do not carry a gene which could lead to a genetic disease.

The draft for an amendment was introduced in 2013 to authorize PGD for cases of hereditary disease. In December 2014, the amended law adopted by Parliament went beyond the initial framework and was very controversial, allowing screening of chromosomal diseases during PGD or other in-vitro fertilization practices. In June 2015, a first vote was held to modify the constitution which only permitted creating 3 embryos at a time. The revised law allows doctors to produce up to 12 embryos during an IVF cycle and to store some of them via freezing.

A referendum was held against the amendment for the procreative medicine act. Out of the 58,634 signatures, 58,112 were considered valid upon submission to the Federal Chancellery. On January 27 of this year, the Federal Council decided to hold a popular vote on June 5, 2016 for the amendment to the procreative medicine act, which had been decided on December 12, 2014.

This law has raised very serious ethical issues because Switzerland has adopted a legislation which badly discriminates disabled persons, by employing an extremely vague definition for the concept of serious illness.

According to the Swiss daily 24 hours reporting the Federal Council’s explanations, “It could be very extreme pain resistant to treatment, or severe limitations in mobility, severe psychological illnesses or a permanent dependence on machines such as oxygen concentrator”.

In their press release, Procap, the main collective association for disabled persons, deplores the results of the vote and declares that they now expect “the political parties and public authorities to firmly commit with concrete actions in favor of assisting disabled persons”. The group of 19 associations voiced their opposition by conducting a campaign against the new law entitled “Diversity instead of selection”.