BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 22 February, 2002, 21:47 GMT
Go-ahead for 'designer' baby
Zain Hashmi
Zain, second right, and his family
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.

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

Jane Denton, HFEA
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.

'Right approach'

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.

Zain Hashmi
Zain Hashmi is seriously ill
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.

Whilst the term 'designer baby' is often overused, it is all too appropriate in this case

Spokesperson for pro-life charity Life
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."

Serious questions

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."

Zain Hashmi
Molly Nash was saved by her brother's bone marrow
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.

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
Hashmi decision sparks ethics row
15 Oct 01 | Health
UK 'designer baby' first
04 Oct 00 | Health
Baby created to save older sister
Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories