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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 11:55 GMT
Should designer babies be permitted?
A British family has been allowed to use IVF to create a child whose cells could cure a sick sibling.

The Hashmi family want to use genetics to create a child who would be a suitable bone marrow donor for their son Zain, who has a rare blood disorder and is likely to die without a transplant.

It is the first time the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has allowed the use of IVF in this way.

Opponents say the authority has effectively given the go-ahead for a designer baby, to be used for spare parts.

Others say this procedure presents no moral dilemmas as it is clearly about saving another child's life.

But could it be put to what some would consider more frivolous uses? How tightly should this type of science be controlled? Can it be controlled at all?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

This family deserve all the help they can get

Alison, UK
I was conceived by IVF because my parents couldn't conceive 'naturally'. I'm the product of my mother's egg and my father's sperm and that makes me 100% their daughter. Fortunately, when my sister was diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago, I was found to be compatible, and donated bone marrow. Although she's not 100% fit yet, she's doing well and is expected to have a long and happy life. Now compare me with this baby. My parents wanted a child, they used IVF and I saved my sibling's life. If I had been selected from a group of other fertilised eggs as a better match for my sister, I would have no problem with that. This family deserve all the help they can get. I wish you all the luck in the world, Mr and Mrs Hashmi, and particularly Zain and his new brother or sister.
Alison, UK

It will be interesting to discover what the new child's views are when it grows up to discover why it was created. Whilst this procedure may save the physical life of one child, it may have a profound effect on the psychological life of another.
Nigel, UK

Whatever my personal view on the ethical implications of even having started this field of research many years ago, it seems to me it is imperative that at least European and preferably global legislation is agreed upon. In the Netherlands the procedure is illegal, and therefore punishable by law. How can such important life-altering procedures be treated so differently in neighbouring countries?
Jeroen, Netherlands

I cannot condemn what this family have done. I think that if my child were seriously ill, I would take the same route. I would do whatever I could to ensure the health and happiness of my family was not compromised. This new baby is still wanted, will still be loved and cherished. More so, I think, being that it will have saved the life of its older sibling. The only tragedy is that that this treatment is not available in the UK. As usual we are thirty years behind America, due to lack of funding and ridiculous bureaucracy.
Julia, Wales, UK

This is a worrying issue in many respects. Many people have said that the second child may feel it was brought into the world only to save the first one. But supposing it doesn't work? It's fine if Zain is saved, and the second child not only feels loved, but knows that he saved his brother's life. But if it fails, how will he feel in later years, knowing that he was brought into the world for the sake of a brother who subsequently died? I am sure he will be much loved, but you cannot ignore the possibly damaging psychological outcome.
Kate, UK

Knowing this sad disease personally and what little hope there is for sufferers, I can't condemn this family

Carmela, Italy
I'm impressed by the story, because I suffer from the same disease as this unlucky baby. I had compatibility tests with my brother and parents ten years ago but none of them were found to be compatible for me, so I cannot benefit from bone marrow transplants. Knowing this sad disease personally and what little hope there is for sufferers, I can't condemn this family. All in all, they only want to ensure a better life for their son. They only want to grant him the longest life expectancy possible. Therefore, if science can help their case, then why not?
Carmela, Italy

Would anyone agree that we are starting to play with something we don't fully understand. Natural selection works in strange ways and is not the same in all species. I can't help but feel that we should be extremely cautious about this. The possibilities are endless to both do good and bad. While ethical and responsible people are running these programs we may not have anything to worry about but if the technology falls into the wrong hands?
Manny B, London, UK

I have no objections to what the HFEA has decided in this case. Doubtless, this family's new child will be loved and cared for, and will have the privilege of being able to save his brother's life.
Jonathan, London, UK

This brings to the fore the complexities of life today. Striking a balance between morality and knowledge has become more difficult. It would take the wise, the objective, not extremists to strike this delicate balance. We should all strive to be among the wise. It is the wise who are able to see clearly through their emotions and beliefs.
Owusu Mensah, Ghana

When we end a life just to save one, then that is the time when the moral lines have been crossed

Fiona, Singapore
To create a life, no matter what the reasons, the family has a responsibility to ensure it is loved and it does not feel inferior or inadequate. For now, it is not overly unethical to create a designer baby for the purpose of saving a life. But we have to know the limits. When we end a life just to save one, then that is the time when the moral lines have been crossed. By then, we'd be no better than murderers.
Fiona, Singapore

I think this is a positive step. At the end of the day if the created child is wanted for the main reasons ie. because the parents want another child anyway I can't see a problem. Obviously I do wonder how the new child will feel when it gets older, if it is aware of the circumstances and publicity surrounding its conception. But overall the pros outweigh the cons.
Gary Langley, England

We already select humans on their genetic criteria implicitly by choosing a partner

Brendan Fernandes, UK
It is in our nature to do things like this - and why not? What terrible fate will befoul us if we start selecting humans on their genetic criteria? We already do this implicitly by choosing a partner. Provided that the humans created are healthy, happy and good-natured, what is the problem? Any analogies between this and the eugenics experiments of the 20th century, or claims that God has banned this, are just cheap shots.
Brendan Fernandes, UK

Being an atheist I have no objection on religious grounds to what this family have done. But how is the new child going to feel when he/she finds out they were a product of IVF, and created just to be a supplier of spare parts?
Bob, UK

There are many opinions as to when human life begins, but if we take the fact that a human being is genetically complete at inception we have to say that human life begins at day one. Opinion is biased, facts are established. The next question is who creates the embryo? Well considering man cannot create a single cell he certainly doesn't create the embryo. Man's place in creating life is no more than the flick of a switch to bring forth light. Only a fool would mess with the foundation of his house. Is man trying to live forever on his own terms? We don't need to search space for higher life, the complex nature of genetic material reveals the higher creator, and it is his life we are messing with.
Chris Groves, England

This sets a dangerous precedent

Matthew, USA
This new baby will likely live a normal and healthy life. Still, I fear this sets a dangerous precedent. What if, in future, an existing child needs a heart transplant? Where will we draw the line?
Matthew, USA

Yes, of course parents should have the right to have a baby designed to save the life of one of their children. Has anyone asked what the affected children will think of the procedure when they are adults? The one whose life has been saved is likely to be very much for it.
Derek Brown, UK

Yes, I am in favour of this couple and others having a designer baby. As for my own personal experience, I have discovered that the genes from your own family are the best, and don't get rejected from the body so quickly. Surely this couple and others can try and save their loved ones rather than sentence them to death.
Debbie Schaap, Netherlands

The only thing I see is how wrong it is that someone who has a family can get this treatment, when couples who have no children cannot get any infertility treatment on the NHS. We would love to have a family but can't unless we pay more than we can for treatment which the local NHS does not pay for. When will the postcode fertility lottery end?
Paul, Wales

All available donor registers have been consulted but no donors existed

Francesca, UK
I work for the same large UK company as Mr Hashmi, which has already held several internal pleas for donor testing, though a large number of the workforce has been tested we had no matches. I know that all available donor registers have also been consulted but no donors existed. The question is how far are you willing to go to save a life?
Francesca, UK

I think this is just another case of humans playing with the natural order of things.
Sean, USA

Making designer babies for spare parts is very wrong. Pregnancy and birth should be totally natural. It is against God's will to design a baby to your own selfish needs. I feel sorrow for that unborn child. You will find out when he/she is older that they were just born for spare parts. This is very immoral.
Lisa, USA

As always, the only objections come from the tired old bone rattlers, claiming we are "playing God". Well, Sean and Lisa from the USA, unlike your God, we can't stand by and watch an innocent child die when there is something we can do about it. That's what morality is all about.
Ian Lowe, Scotland, UK

This could potentially save young Zain from a painfully brief life

Thomas Dempster, USA
Granted, there are valid questions regarding the procedure in question, but as a thalassemia patient myself, this particular case could potentially save young Zain from a painfully brief life riddled with physical and moreover, undue emotional suffering, not to mention saving his parents from grave heartache.
Thomas Dempster, USA

I think that the social implications of this case should be considered. Whilst it is very upsetting for the family that their child is dying, is it really acceptable to bring another child into the world to specifically save the older child? When the younger child grows up it will have to deal with these issues, and could have a problem feeling that they were not a wanted child, but just created to be used. This very much depends upon the parenting of course, and the family may well bring the child up to feel loved and cared for. Nevertheless, this factor should be considered in such cases. As conception becomes a less natural process this may lead to profound psychological difficulties for the children that arise from such methods.
Katherine, UK

The parents have the right to make this choice. The fertility industry gives hope to the hopeless.
Deborah Kleczko, USA

When we start to manufacture humans for the means to someone else's end we instantly make human life a commodity

John Dallman, England
When we start to manufacture humans for the means to someone else's end (whatever end is in mind) we instantly make human life a commodity. We started with IVF which opened the can of worms. As this country and its moral values sink further into the pit so does our value and respect for human life, at its conception, intermediate, and as it draws to an end.
John Dallman, England

When we have legal abortion on demand could someone explain the problem here?
Russ, UK

Everything starts off with good intentions. I feel that by forcing this procedure to take place, the parents have selfishly laid the foundations for future human rights abuses.
Ramon Lopez, USA

Over the past century the medical profession has increasingly negated the effects of 'natural selection' by keeping alive many babies that would otherwise have died at or soon after birth. These are now breeding and producing yet more imperfect babies, needing more intervention by the medical profession. This proposed use of IVF to rectify some of the damage already done might be an improvement and an opportunity to ensure that children that are fundamentally healthy are born. As for the moral argument, what are morals but justification for already accepted norms? What parent wouldn't take the opportunity to ensure that their child was born 'perfect' if they could?
Barry P, England

To Barry P: England. Isn't our ability to fight natural selection what makes us human?
Pascal Jacquemain, UK

It is better for all concerned that the first baby they have is a match for their existing child. If not they could have many babies before getting the match, by which time the first child may be too ill for treatment.
Caron, England

See also:

22 Feb 02 | Health
'Designer' baby decision due
01 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Test-tube lifesaver
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