Baptist Theologian Hits NY Times Obit for Praise of Embryo-destroying Geneticist

The late Dr. Yury Verlinsky, a scientist "who developed a technology that allows a search-and-destroy mission on human embryos" was heralded by the New York Times recently as a man who helped childless patients conceive healthy babies.

Thus argued Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on his August 7 radio program. The former columnist was reacting to a July 22 New York Times obituary entitled "Yury Verlinsky, Expert in Embryonic Screening, Is Dead at 65."

"What I want to note... is not so much the man and what he did, but the way the New York Times explains this," Mohler told his audience, adding:

Repeatedly in this article, it says that he helped patients conceive healthy babies. Folks, what he helped to do is to eliminate embryos that were considered sub-standard. Not one embryo was therapeutically helped to be more healthy. Only embryos that were considered unacceptable were destroyed.

I think it is very illuminating to see how the media treats [sic] this. I think the New York Times writes an obituary about a scientist like this, and describes his work simply in terms of helping patients conceive healthy babies. 

We're right in George Orwell's territory.  We're here missing the obvious.

This is a man who developed a technology that allows a search-and-destroy mission on human embryos.

Indeed, New York Times staffer Dennis Hevesi, noted that Verlinksy "was one of the first scientists to develop techniques to detect genetic disorders in embryos" and "helped make that screening available to parents around the world."

"Dr. Verlinsky, who fled the Soviet Union in 1979 after being barred from pursuing his research there, was an early practitioner of what is called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D.," Hevesi added.

Of course, that diagnostic screening involves the subsequent destruction of the embryos found to contain these genetic disorders. What's more, some of these genetic concerns were not likely to present problems at birth or early childhood, but much later in life.

Yet Hevesi failed to note that ethical concern, even as he pointed out how some medical ethicists objected to Verlinsky's work seven years ago helping a woman likely to contract early-onset Alzheimer's to bear a child via in-vitro fertilization (emphasis mine):

In 2002, Dr. Verlinsky supervised the genetic testing of a 30-year-old woman who was likely to develop a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease before she turned 40. Her baby was spared that fate because she had been screened as an embryo before being implanted in the womb.

The case was a medical milestone, the first use of genetic testing to prevent an early onset form of Alzheimer’s. But some ethicists found it disturbing because the mother would probably become unable to take care of her daughter, who would witness her deterioration and death.

Dr. Verlinsky said he had no qualms about helping the woman. “It’s totally up to the patient,” he said, pointing out that many children are brought up by single parents and that the couple had considered the decision for months.

Far from noting criticism from pro-life medical ethicists, Hevesi went on to quote Dr. Andrew La Barbera of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine who praised the late Verlinsky as having been "a giant in the field because he transformed P.G.D. into a routine procedure that has enabled innumerable couples to conceive children free of genetic disease" and who "made it available to clinics around the world."

Hevesi added to the praise in his concluding paragraphs (emphasis mine):

Soon after receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Verlinsky began work in a [Soviet] government clinic. His research proposals were rejected by a committee. The Verlinskys emigrated to the United States in 1979, a fortunate move for reproductive technology.

Dr. Jamie Grifo, the program director at the New York University Fertility Center, said, “If it wasn’t for Yury, who knows how far this field would have come?”

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.