WCMC-Q Physician Explores the Social and Health Implications of Cousin Marriage

Published November 26th, 2009 - 09:45 GMT

Ahmad Teebi, MD, professor of pediatrics and genetic medicine at WCMC-Qand an internationally renowned expert on genetics and genetic disorders, discussed cousin marriage at a public lecture at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. His presentation highlighted the prevalence of cousin marriage around the world and the need to encourage understanding of the practice as well as related health concerns.

“Cousin marriage is legal in 26 of the United States and is not prohibited anywhere in Europe,” Dr. Teebi said. “There are genetic implications to consider with first-cousin marriage, but it is more common than people think. We need to understand the many reasons people consider this an option so that we can be realistic about it.”

Why is Cousin Marriage Practiced?
It is estimated that up to 20 percent of marriages worldwide today are between first cousins, Dr. Teebi said. Reasons for the practice include geographical isolation, social or psychological support, convenience and tradition.

Another big reason for the practice involves financial obligations, Dr. Teebi explained. In many parts of the world, a dowry is an integral part of the wedding process and there’s often a substantial amount of money or property involved. Those who cannot afford a sizeable dowry may choose to marry within the family to relieve the tremendous cost and make marriage possible, he said. On the other hand, some families have a tremendous inheritance and are reluctant to spread the resources outside of the family—in this case, cousin marriage is favorable to them.

The practice is explored by some religious texts and in most branches of worship is minimally regulated if at all. No matter the circumstances, however, it’s important to understand the genetics related to the decision to reproduce within a cousin marriage, Dr. Teebi said.

Genetic and Health Implications
“In the case of first-cousin marriage, a couple’s chance of having a baby with a birth defect rises from 3 percent, which is the non-cousin marriage rate, to between 4.5 and 6 percent,” Dr. Teebi said. “In the case of second-cousin marriages, the risk increases only slightly above that of the general population.”

Dr. Teebi explained basic genetic principles and explored the concept of consanguinity, the scientific term for reproduction among couples who are second cousins or closer, or within an isolated population.

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