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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 06:34 GMT
Doctor plans UK 'designer baby' clinic
Blood cells, BBC
"Designer babies" have been created for their cord blood
A fertility expert plans to open a clinic in London, UK, producing babies genetically selected to help sick siblings, the BBC's Newsnight programme has learned.

Dr Mohammed Taranissi told Newsnight he would seek a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) but if it refused he said he would still go ahead with his plans.

He believes he could be aided by another loophole in the 1990 Act that governs the HFEA, similar to the gap that recently forced an emergency bill to ban human reproductive cloning.

It's not just being produced as a spare part

Dr Mohammed Taranissi
The Egyptian-born specialist wants to provide compatible donors - through genetic selection of embryos - for seriously ill children.

Dr Taranissi, director of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London, told Newsnight he was not heading down a moral "slippery slope".

He said: "It's not a commodity, as the baby will be loved and cherished on its own merit. It's not just being produced as a spare part."

Fatal disorder

Dr Taranissi has already referred a British woman to a team in Chicago, which first carried out the process and is now helping him set up a genetic selection lab in Britain.

The Chicago team saved the life of three-year-old Molly Nash, an American girl with a rare, fatal genetic disorder called Fanconi's anaemia.

A number of IVF embryos were created and those carrying the genes for the disease were discarded.

You have got to have a very powerful reason to resist the means by which [a child's] life can be saved

Jonathan Glover
Centre of Medical Law and Ethics
Blood was extracted from the umbilical cord of the resulting, healthy baby - his name is Adam - and used to treat Molly, whose bone marrow regenerated and who is now healthy herself.

Dr Taranissi wants to carry out the whole process in the UK with Denise Kelly and her son Nathan, who suffers from the same condition as Molly. This would negate the need to send embryos out of the country to the US for testing and selection.

Dr Taranissi told Newsnight the Chicago team should be in this country on 20 December, saying: "Hopefully all being well, we should be in a position to start the work and provide this in a clinical context by the start of the year.

"I would say end of January, beginning of February - hopefully."

Difficult questions

He adds: "We're trying to talk to the HFEA and make sure everything has been approved but I think if we have to do things having taken legal advice - we will do it."

Fertility expert Lord Winston said the plans should not be allowed because they prompted the same difficult moral questions as choosing the sex of a child, a practice that remains forbidden.

He added: "That is fundamentally wrong and fundamentally dangerous."

It is totally unethical - you are not creating a child for itself

Josephine Quintavalle
Pro-life Alliance
Jonathan Glover, from King's College London's Centre of Medical Law and Ethics, said the benefits outweighed the problems where the case involved umbilical cord blood.

"If there is a child's life at stake, you have got to have a very powerful reason to resist the means by which that life can be saved."

But he said he would have "huge problems" with children being created to give a kidney or spend a life donating bone marrow.

Legislators' difficulties

Josephine Quintavalle, of the anti-abortion group Pro-life Alliance, told Newsnight the HFEA already had the powers to prevent any clinic.

She said: "It is totally unethical. You are not creating a child for itself."

Ian Gibson MP, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, admitted the speed of developments in genetic and fertility techniques was difficult for legislators to deal with.

He said: "The legal process hasn't been able to handle it."

Mr Gibson said the whole issue was being discussed in Parliament and said he felt confident new laws would be brought in if necessary.

The BBC's Susan Watts
reports on the issues surrounding the 'designer baby'
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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