To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to raise awareness of the medical difficulties associated with cousin marriages.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): The department continues to support the work of the National Health Service in providing information to all couples at risk of genetic conditions to enable them to make informed choices.
As part of the complementary work to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, the department has published the Implementation Plan for Reducing Health Inequalities in Infant Mortality: A Good Practice Guide, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. The document provides details on how genetic screening and counselling services play an important part in this area. Specifically, it highlights the work of two projects funded by the department on how to provide appropriate genetic services and support to communities that practise cousin marriage.
The department supports the work of NHS initiatives among communities with a higher prevalence of cousin marriage on a number of important issues. This includes initiatives delivered through regional NHS genetic counselling services that work to raise awareness of the risks associated with cousin marriage.
Most couples in consanguineous relationships will have healthy children. Overall the risk of any given couple having a child with a severe genetic condition is still relatively small, estimated at 4 per cent for cousin marriages compared to 2 per cent for unrelated parents.