February 23, 2024

Former head of UK infertility authority opposes cousin marriages

Baroness Ruth Deech says Muslim practices are unhealthy
The former chair of the
UK’s fertility watchdog has called for a vigorous public campaign to oppose
marriage of first cousins. Baroness Ruth
, a family law professor and bioethicist, and one-time chair of the
Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, says that children are at risk of
being born with genetic defects.

The issue is potentially
an explosive one in Britain, because the targets of her criticism are mainly
Muslim. According to the London Times, “Fifty-five per cent of British
Pakistanis are married to first cousins and in Bradford the figure is 75 per
cent. British Pakistanis represent 3 per cent of all births in Britain but one
third of children with recessive disorders.”

Baroness Deech believes
that cousin marriage is also a barrier to the successful integration of
minority communities. She does not want a ban on the practice, but a public
education campaign to make people aware of the dangers. “There is no reason, one
could argue, why there should not be a campaign to highlight the risks and the
preventative measures, every bit as vigorous as those centring on smoking,
obesity and Aids,” she says.

She suggests that
Muslim couples should at least use IVF to select embryos without genetic
defects. The Jewish community, she pointed out, has nearly eliminated Tay-Sachs
disease by testing men and women for the recessive gene which causes it. When a
marriage is proposed, a register is consulted to see if the couple are both
carriers. If they are, no marriage will be arranged.

Ironically, as the Times
points out
, one of the most famous cousin marriages was that of Charles
Darwin with his cousin Emma Wedgewood. They had 10 children, many of them quite
sickly. Three died at birth or in childhood. ~ London
Times, Mar 20

Michael Cook
genetic testing