British Couple to Create Life-Saver Baby

February 22, 2002; London, UK -- A couple have been given permission to use IVF treatment to create a child whose cells will be used to try to save the life of their child. The UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) agreed to allow Shahana and Raj Hashmi to use IVF to ensure the child does not have the same rare blood condition as their son Zain. Pro-Life campaigners have condemned the landmark ruling which they say "turns children into commodities."

The Hashmis, from Leeds, Northern England, have been allowed to pick an embryo which does not have the Thalassaemia gene but is otherwise a genetic match to Zain -- a procedure known as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). When the brother or sister is born the umbilical cord will be used to provide a bone marrow transplant. Zain, who was born with thalassaemia, a rare genetic blood disorder, needs regular blood transfusions and will certainly die without a transplant.

Even with the genetic selecting there is no guarantee of success. Jane Denton, Deputy Chair of the HFEA, insisted the move would not result in a flood of "designer babies".She said: "In all cases we look in detail at the circumstances and other treatments that might be available to ensure this really is the only option available. It is definitely not a designer baby. This child is not being selected for any characteristics at all."

A HFEA statement added: "The HFEA licence committee approved the use of PGD in the Hashmi case. They took this decision in light of the knowledge that the Hashmis wish to have another child free from the genetic disease which affects their son Zain. They also hope that the new baby's cord-blood can be used to attempt to save his life." The HFEA decided last December that it would allow PGD to go ahead but that each case would have to be approved on its merits and the Hashmi case is the first one to be approved in the UK.

But pro-Life campaigners say that manufacturing a baby would devalue the respect for human life. Peter Garrett, Director of Research at the Charity Life, told the UK's Press Association: "Should we allow a child to be manufactured in order to serve the medical needs of an older brother? Life's answer is an emphatic no. While the term 'designer baby' is often overused, it is all too appropriate in this case. Children should be accepted and loved unconditionally. The procedure being considered here will allow a child to be born only on condition that he/she can supply bone marrow for an older brother. Children are not commodities. They are precious gifts who should not be exploited."

In 2000, Jack and Lisa Nash used genetic screening at Chicago's Reproductive Genetics Institute to select a new baby who would be a transplant match for their six-year-old daughter Molly, who had Fanconi Anemia, a rare genetic disease. It was the first time PGD had been used both to save an existing life.