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Spanish Researchers Want to Tag Human Embryos With Bar Codes

Fox News,  Dec 13, 2010
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In futuristic movies like "Aliens 2" and "12 Monkeys," prisoners are bar coded for easy identification. But today's reality is even wilder: Scientists have proposed bar-coding embryos.

Researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain have just finished testing a method for imprinting microscopic bar codes on mouse embryos -- a procedure they plan to test soon on humans. The venture is meant to avoid mismatches during in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures. But privacy experts and children's rights advocates were instantly concerned by the concept of "direct labeling" of embryos, calling for transparency in the process.

“An embryo is a human life, so we have to move forward with this very, very cautiously,” Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum, told “Obviously we can’t ask the embryo what it wants, so the individual making the donation must consent to this as well as the individual receiving the donation. There’s got to be a lot of public discussion.”

The researchers insist that their technique is perfectly safe, claiming that the bar codes simply evaporate as the embryo develops into a fetus. Dr. Arthur Caplan, the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said that as long as development is not affected, any improvement on embryo transfer would be extremely beneficial -- since mistakes can be heartbreaking.

“When you’re talking about mismatch, those kinds of errors are psychologically and emotionally devastating,” Caplan told “You have parents who want to reject the child saying that the child clearly isn’t the same race as they are. There’s also a danger that the donor may change their mind and want to get involved in parenting. People really want that biological connection. So I think this is a terrific idea to reduce those difficulties.”

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