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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Parents seek test tube 'lifesaver'
Hashmi family
Zain, second right, and his family
A couple with a child who has a potentially-fatal genetic disorder want to use IVF to create a sibling whose cells could cure him.

However, opponents say that the procedure would create a designer baby produced for spare parts.

No suitable donor has been found for Zain Hashmi, who has thalassaemia, so his parents, from Leeds, have asked for assistance to create a brother or sister who may be a match.


We have got to get on and utilise this technology while we can

Dr Simon Fishel
The Park Hospital's Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Nottinghamshire has agreed to help Raj and Shahana Hashmi, but needs approval from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Dr Simon Fishel, a fertility expert at the hospital, said: "Zain will die without a compatible match, and I think any parent would understand the dilemma this family is in."

He said even if permission to create what critics have called a "designer baby" was successful there was no guarantee of success for the couple.

Dr Fishel said: "They have a huge uphill struggle. First of all we have to find an embryo that is compatible, and there are no guarantees of that.

Zain Hashmi
Zain Hashmi is seriously ill
"Then if we find one that is compatible, there is probably a chance of maybe 30% that she will deliver a baby.

"In that event we will then do the transfer of the bone marrow cells or the foetal cord cells, but there are no guarantees here."

He said he hoped regulators at the HFEA made a prompt decision on whether to let the process go ahead, or otherwise the couple will have to go to America for treatment.

Dr Fishel said: "I am hoping it (a decision) is weeks not months, particularly because of the mother's age. We have got to get on and utilise this technology when we can."

Designer baby

If the Hashmi's request is granted, it would be the first time a British couple would be allowed to order a "designer baby" selected specifically to help an ailing older sibling.

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.

Dr Fishel said there are four other children in the Hashmi family, but none have blood that is a match for Zain.

"It is not simply a matter of matching blood groups, it is a much more complicated matter of matching the blood antigens.

Molly Nash with her brother Adam and her parents
Molly Nash was saved by her brother's bone marrow
"The match must be close enough so there is no rejection."

If the procedure is allowed to go ahead, embryos conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) would be screened for their suitability.

Blood for the transfusion would then be taken from the baby's umbilical cord after it was born.

Jane Denton, of the HFEA, said: "We are concerned that techniques should only be used where there is a very serious, life threatening medical condition."

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.

The children's mother Lisa dismissed claims that her son was cynically created to help his sister.

She said: "You want to call him a designer baby because he will never have to go through the hospitalisations that his sister went through, then call him a designer baby.

"He was not born for spare parts, we did it so he would be healthy."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Karen Allen
"Monthly blood transfusions are keeping him alive"
Lisa Nash, mother of Molly Nash
who took part in a similar case in the US
Jane Denton, HFEA
"This case does have wider implications"
Lord Robert Winston
"This would be using an unborn child as a commodity"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should we create a life to save a life?

Yes
 56.96% 

No
 43.04% 

625 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Gene selection
Should we create a life to save a life?

Click here to go to BBC Leeds Online

Click here to go to BBC Nottingham Online

See also:

01 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Test-tube lifesaver
04 Oct 00 | Health
Baby created to save older sister
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