Incestuous marriages not always unhealthy: Study

June 3rd, 2008 - 2:27 pm ICT by IANS  

London, June 3 (IANS) Incestuous marriages - as between first cousins - might not always be unhealthy, concludes an Australian researcher. “Britain has seen a rise in first cousin marriages amongst its Pakistani migrant population which has led to debate about the health outcomes,” said Alan Bittles of Murdoch University.

Bittles has spent 30 years researching the effect of consanguineous (or same blood) marriages on health outcomes and intellectual and development disabilities.

He noted that there was a widespread misconception that such marriages are rare. Actually, over a billion people live in regions where 20-50 percent of marriages are between blood relatives.

“These types of unions are common in many Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Jewish communities,” said Bittles.

Bittles believes there will be a greater incidence of first cousin marriages in Australia as more migrants from these communities come into the country.

Bittles was a guest speaker in a debate in East London on whether cousin marriages are a cause for concern. The debate was organised by the Progress Education Trust.

“In Western culture there is a general belief that first cousin marriages lead to negative genetic outcomes, yet a large majority of children born to first cousins are healthy,” Bittles said.

“A global analysis has shown that early death or major ill-health is on average four to five percent higher in children of first cousins than equivalent non-consanguineous offspring.”

Given the global numbers of cousin marriages, Bittles believes comprehensive health-based studies of short and longer-term outcomes are long overdue.

“Simply banning consanguineous marriages, which has been suggested by some opponents in Britain, is simplistic and of limited relevance,” he said.

“A more workable approach would be to identify the families in which specific genetic diseases occur, as part of culture-sensitive genetic counselling and premarital carrier testing programmes.”

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