Go-ahead for 'designer' baby
Friday, 22 February, 2002, 21:47 GMT
A couple has been given the go-ahead to create a baby which could save their seriously ill son's life.
Three-year-old Zain Hashmi, from Leeds, has the rare and potentially fatal blood disorder thalassaemia.
He urgently needs a bone marrow transplant but so far no suitable genetic match has been found.
But, now, in the first decision of its kind in Britain, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has given Zain's parents, Raj and Shahana Hashmi, permission to specially select an embryo in an attempt to save their son's life.
Using IVF techniques a cell will be removed from the specially selected embryo and checked that it is disease-free and a good tissue match.
If it is suitable, the embryo will be implanted into the mother's womb.
When the baby is eventually born, doctors take stem-cells, which can regenerate bone marrow, from the umbilical cord and inject those cells into the sick child.
Using this technique Zain will have an 80% chance of a match being found, compared to a 20% chance from a brother or sister conceived naturally.
The decision has been criticised by some campaigners who say it is a step along the road of creating babies as a " commodity " .
The Hashmis are expected to start treatment at The Park Hospital's Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Nottinghamshire immediately.
Dr Simon Fishel, from the Nottinghamshire clinic, told BBC News Online: " I'm absolutely delighted for the family, because it's their chance to try and improve the quality of life for Zain.
" I'm very pleased the decision has been taken for the field of reproductive medicine, because I'm sure it's the right approach. "
He said that he was convinced that the child would be " loved deeply " by the Hashmi family.
There are four other children in the Hashmi family, but none have blood that is a match for Zain.
HFEA Deputy Chair Jane Denton said Friday's decision would not set a precedent and each case would be considered individually.
She said: " We expect it to be very rare and such treatment will only be allowed after full, detailed consideration by the authority and under very strict controls. "
Opponents say that the procedure would create a designer baby produced for spare parts.
They are also opposed to the discarding of embryos created during the process that are not suitable, although unused embryos are discarded after virtually every IVF cycle.
A spokesman for the campaign group Life said: " This case raises serious questions as to how far we should allow science to go.
" Should we allow a child to be manufactured in order to serve the medical needs of an older brother?
" Whilst the term 'designer baby' is often overused, it is all too appropriate in this case. "
A British woman recently became the first in the country to give birth after undergoing the technique, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.
She travelled to Chicago for the procedure after deciding it offered the best chance of successful treatment for her four-year-old son who has leukaemia.
In a similar case in the United States, a family had a test-tube baby to provide bone marrow for their six-year-old daughter who suffers from Fanconi anaemia.
Molly Nash received cells from her brother Adam's umbilical cord to help her fight the inherited disease.
Thalassaemia is an inherited disorder affecting haemoglobin, the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to the tissues.
Children with thalassaemia cannot make enough haemoglobin, and their bone marrow cannot produce sufficient red blood cells.