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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Scientists back 'donor babies'
By Martin Hutchinson
BBC News Online health staff in Madrid

Jamie and Charlie Whitaker
The Whitakers' case is controversial
Creating a baby to help save the life of an existing child is "morally acceptable", says the chairman of an influential society of European fertility scientists.

Professor Hans Evers, of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, said that "embryo selection" should be allowed - as long as the new child is loved and cared for by the parents.

His statement contradicts the line taken by UK fertility regulators - who say that the procedure should only be allowed in circumstances where the new baby's life is also in jeopardy.

The Whitaker family were forced to travel abroad for treatment after clinics were refused permission to help them choose a baby who is a perfect match for their four-year-old son Charlie - who suffers from a rare blood condition and needs a bone marrow transplant.

Michelle Whitaker gave birth to a genetically selected baby earlier this month.

The solution is morally acceptable if the use as a donor is not the only motive for the parents to have the child
Professor Hans Evers, Chairman, ESHRE
However, another family, the Hashmis, were allowed to go ahead with the selection process because their existing son Zain has beta thalassaemia, and the embryo selection could prevent the birth of another baby with this dangerous condition.

In that case, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ruled that the procedure was acceptable.

However, Professor Evers did not make the same distinction, saying: "The solution is morally acceptable if the use as a donor is not the only motive for the parents to have the child - they intend to love and care for this child to the same extent as they love and care for the affected child.

"The creation of a child for the purpose of harvesting non-regenerating organs is not justifiable."

Cloning ban stays

Professor Evers did make it clear that the society remained opposed to the using of cloning technology to make babies.

He said: "The deliberate generation of clones could infringe upon the dignity and integrity of human individuals by increasing genetic determinism and restricting autonomy and individuality."

He said that publicity over cloning was damaging the image of reproductive research in general.

The society's incoming chairman, Professor Arne Sunde, said that he feared that the EU might move to ban all forms of embryo research because of concerns about ethical abuses.

He said that research using embryonic stem cells in the laboratory - which has provoked fierce opposition from some campaigners - could yet produce treatments or even cures for killer diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

He said: "There have been spectacular results using embryonic stem cells in animal models of diseases such as Parkinson's.

"My message to those members of the European Parliament who would wish to make embryonic stem cell research illegal, is to talk to the scientific and medical community and to consider very carefully the effect that a ban would have on research and on society's hopes of finding new treatments."

Suzi Leather, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said Professor Evers' comment were a helpful contribution to the debate, but did not imply criticism of the HFEA.

She said: "We keep all policies under review."

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