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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 14:41 GMT
High Court 'designer baby' challenge
Hashmi family
The Hashmis want to help their son Zain
A pro-life campaigner has launched a legal challenge to the concept of "designer babies" in the High Court.

The case centres around the selection of test-tube embryos to provide a match for a sick sibling.

Josephine Quintavalle is acting on behalf of the public interest group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core).

She is challenging the power of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to issue licences permitting embryo selection in IVF by tissue-typing.

This is the beginning of designer babies.

Josephine Quintavalle

The case of Zain Hashmi prompted the court battle.

He has thalassaemia, a potentially deadly blood disorder, and his parents Raj and Shahana Hashmi asked a clinic to help them.

Zain needs a bone marrow transplant, but no suitable donor can be found. However cells from the umbilical cord of a genetically-matched sibling would be able to provide this.

Shahana Hashmi condemned Core's legal challenge.

Speaking at the weekend, she said: "These people could destroy not just Zain's right to life but that of hundreds of other children."

The family will begin their third attempt to have an IVF baby after Christmas.

'No legitimate basis'

Core criticised the HFEA's decision in December last year to allow tissue typing in principle.

In July this year, the Hashmis from Leeds were the first family to be given the go-ahead to use the technique.

Ms Quintavalle's lawyers argued in court that the HFEA had acted beyond its powers under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

Before the hearing, she said: "This is the beginning of designer babies.

"The people making these decisions are unelected committee members when such decisions should be for Parliament because of their significance."

She said the new technique was a dangerous first step towards allowing parents to use embryo testing to choose other characteristics of the baby, such as eye colour and sex.

Lawyers for the HFEA argue there is no legitimate basis for saying the process is unlawful and that to prevent it would interfere with the human rights of parents.

Dinah Rose, appearing in court for the HFEA, said it did have the right to allow tissue typing under the 1990 Act.

She said it was simply an "additional step" in the process of screening for genetic defects under preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which Core accept is legal.

Embryo selection

In all IVF treatments, attempts are made to fertilise a number of a woman's eggs, which can result in several embryos.

Usually, only the one or two which developed most strongly would be placed back in her body and the rest would be either frozen or discarded.

But in the tissue typing technique in this case, additional tests are carried out to rule out those which are not a match for the existing child.

The HFEA says each case should be considered individually.

It already backs genetic testing of embryos to ensure that certain serious gene defects are not passed on.

It has also agreed in principle to chromosome testing of embryos to try to reduce the risk of miscarriage following IVF.

After a day-long hearing at the High Court, the judge reserved his decision and said he hoped to announce it before Christmas.

See also:

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