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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 14:42 GMT
Ruling blocks 'designer baby' bid
The Hashmis
The Hashmis are at the centre of the case
A couple's bid to use embryo testing so they can have a baby to treat their seriously ill child has been put on hold by a High Court decision.

The Hashmi family, who had been given the go-ahead for the treatment to help their son Zain, will now have to stop their attempts to have a baby this way in the UK.

Josephine Quintavalle, of the public interest group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core), who brought the High Court challenge, claimed the screening of test tube embryos to provide "donor siblings" for sick children was "ethically objectionable".

On Friday a judge agreed that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - which regulates fertility clinics - had no right under current legislation to license the technique.

We can't influence these decisions if they are taken behind closed doors by unelected quango

Josephine Quintavalle
The HFEA has told the BBC that it intends to appeal against the decision.

Raj and Shahana Hashmi, from Leeds, were the first couple in the UK to be given the go-ahead to use the technique in July this year.

Josephine Quintavalle: "Delighted"
Their son Zain has beta-thalassaemia, a dangerous blood disorder which might be cured by a cell transplant using tissue from the umbilical cord of a baby who is an exact tissue match for him.

While there is a small chance that a naturally-conceived baby would be a match, the chances are greatly improved if Shahana undergoes IVF, and all the resulting embryos are tested to select only those which match Zain.

So far, their IVF attempts since July have failed.

Dr Simon Fishel, who is coordinating their treatment at a clinic in Nottingham, told the BBC that the family would still get treatment even if it was blocked here - but would have to go abroad at great expense.

He said: "I am very proud to live in a country where there is a degree of freedom of choice for people where it comes to medical intervention."


Mrs Quintavalle said her group - and others like it - wanted the right to have their say over the ethical considerations of embryo selection, which cannot currently happen.

"We can't influence these decisions if they are taken behind closed doors by unelected quangos," she said.

She added: "If the HFEA has the authority to make policy decisions on this matter, then it could decide if it's appropriate to do social sex selection, or even 'I want this sort of child or that sort of child'."

She added: "Core will continue to campaign against any procedure which puts one child at the disposal of another human being, no matter how emotional and moving the circumstances which motivate such proposals."

We are disappointed by the judgment

Ann Furedi, HFEA
The judge Mr Justice Maurice Kay said the case was in "a difficult area of medical science and ethics".

He added: "I wish to make it clear that I have great sympathy with the family whose tragic circumstances may be said to have given rise to this case, and I respect the sincerity of the views of those who wish to help them."

But he said the law covering the HFEA did not allow it to sanction tissue typing because that was not related to helping women conceive or carry a child to full term.

Genetic conditions

HFEA spokeswoman Ann Furedi said: "We are disappointed by the judgment and we will appeal.

"We will be considering it extremely carefully and taking advice."

The HFEA already allows the genetic testing of embryos to ensure that certain serious conditions are not passed on.

The British Fertility Society said it backed the HFEA.

Dr Alison Murdoch added: "The ultimate decision must be made by the couple involved, who are the only ones who really understand the problems they face, based on the advice given to them by the expert clinicians who are caring for them."


Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics and science at the British Medical Association, said the area was complex and raised a number of ethical and moral concerns.

"The obvious one is that we must value all children for themselves and not just as potential lifesavers for a brother or sister."

But she added: "As doctors, we believe that where technology exists that could help a dying or seriously ill child, without involving major risks for others, then it can only be right that it is used for this purpose.

"The welfare of the child born as a result of the treatment is of crucial importance but in our view this is not incompatible with allowing the selection of embryos on the basis of tissue type."

The decision does not affect "pre-implantation genetic diagnosis", in which embryos are screened to prevent a child with a genetic disease being born.

  The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"It is a surprise victory for pro-life campaigners"
  HFEA communications director Ann Furedi
"We believe this judgement only applies to this kind of tissue typing"
  Josephine Quintavalle, Comment on Reproductive Ethic
"The decision should be taken by Parliament"

Click here to go to Leeds
See also:

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