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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 17:46 GMT
Ethics fears raised over 'designer baby'
Zain Hashmi and family
A cure for Zain, second right, could be found
A "dangerous precedent" has been set by the decision to allow a British couple to create a 'designer baby', pro-life campaigners believe.

The Medical Ethics Alliance (MEA) said it feared the exploitation of IVF techniques being used to choose a sibling for three-year-old Zain Hashmi.

Doctors will use tissue typing to ensure there is a chance Zain's baby brother or sister will carry bone marrow which could cure him of the potentially fatal blood disease thalassaemia.

MEA chairman Dr Anthony Cole said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) had started "a course of events far beyond their control" in deciding to allow the procedure.

His warning came after fertility expert Lord Winston said the hopes of other couples with sick children could be falsely raised after the HFEA backed Zain's parents, Shahana and Raj Hashmi.

Commercial interest

Dr Cole said the techniques being used to help the Hashmis by doctors in Nottingham could be imported by countries with few ethical controls in place.

The selection of an embryo in this way brings us to the brink of genetic manipulation

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
He said they could be of great commercial interest in India and the Middle East, where thalassaemia is common.

"All children are of inestimable value in themselves and it is contrary to their dignity, and the dignity of their procreation, to be selected, conceived and utilised for the benefit of another," Dr Cole added.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children condemned any move to destroy embryos if they are not a good tissue match for Zain.

Its general secretary Paul Tully said: "The selection of an embryo in this way brings us to the brink of genetic manipulation of our offspring.

"Parents should not be forced to accept unethical procedures in order to give their children a chance."

Labour peer Lord Winston warned of "real risks" involved in the procedure.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't think it's right for couples to have their hopes greatly raised by this procedure when there are other techniques which might prove a lot more effective.

"If stem cell research is jeopardised because of an adverse public reaction to this case it would be most unfortunate."

'Sad and damaging'

Despite the criticism of the HFEA decision others backed it for creating new hope for parents who need a cure for their sick children.

Bishop Richard Harris of Oxford told the Today programme there was no ethical problem as long as the new baby was wanted in its own right.

Lab technician
Research at Nottingham's Park Hospital has helped the Hashmis
He said: "If they are wanted for their own sake it's surely morally legitimate that the benefits that their birth brings should also be used."

Fertility expert Dr Mohammed Taranissi told the programme there was a case for dropping the need for HFEA approval in cases like the Hashmi's.

He added: "What we are doing is no different from what's been done for the last 23 years in the IVF world.

"Embryos are created in the laboratory, they are created at random, we have no way of manipulating them to develop in a special way."

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."

The BBC's Karen Allen
"This is all about creating the perfect donor"
Deputy chair of the HFEA, Jane Denton
"It will only be allowed under very strict controls"
Bruno Quintervalle, Comment on Reproductive Ethics
"These are issues that parliament should be dealing with"

Designer babies
Should they be permitted?
See also:

01 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Test-tube lifesaver
22 Feb 02 | Health
Go-ahead for 'designer' baby
22 Feb 02 | Health
Hashmi decision sparks ethics row
15 Oct 01 | Health
UK 'designer baby' first
04 Oct 00 | Health
Baby created to save older sister
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