Judges back creation of ‘designer babies’

THE spectre of babies being created for “spare parts” was brought closer yesterday, as the British House of Lords declared “designer babies” can be used to treat siblings with genetic disorders.

The move will allow a British couple, Raj and Shahana Hashmi, to genetically design a child using IVF treatment so that they can take tissue from the new child to save their terminally ill son, Zain.

Yesterday’s test case centred on an Appeal Court judgment in April 2003 which overturned a ban on the use of fertility treatment to help save the life of the terminally-ill boy.

After the ban was first overturned, the couple underwent fertility treatment to produce a sibling for Zain, hoping to have a baby with the same tissue type as their son to treat his rare blood disorder. Tragically, Mrs Hashmi had a miscarriage. Now the Hashmis are expected to try again for another child.

The 38-year-old-mother and her husband, from Leeds, were forced to fight a long legal battle for the treatment, which they believe is the only hope for their six-year-old son.

Zain was born with beta thalassaemia major, a serious and potentially fatal genetic disorder. His body does not produce sufficient red blood cells and he has to take a cocktail of drugs daily and needs regular blood transfusions to stay alive.

His parents want him to undergo stem cell treatment using umbilical cord blood taken from a baby, produced using IVF treatment, that had been especially selected at embryo stage so the tissue matched Zain’s.

This approach was blocked by Josephine Quintavalle and her campaigning group, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, when they took the case to the Law Lords, claiming the concept of designer babies was against the law.

But yesterday, five Law Lords, who heard the case in March, ruled unanimously that the practice of tissue typing to create babies to help siblings could be authorised by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Anti-abortion campaigner LIFE said later it was “saddened” by the decision.

A spokesperson said: “We have every sympathy for parents of children with serious conditions and understand their desperation to find a cure but the creation of a human being to fix another is unjustifiable.

“Today’s decision from the House of Lords takes us further down the slippery slope in creating human beings to provide spare parts for another.

“In this case a very sick child is going to be treated. But why stop there? The best of ends, namely to cure a sick child, does not justify the means. Children are ends in themselves and should be accepted unconditionally.”

Dr Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility Group, Nottingham, where the Hashmis were treated, said: “This is excellent news not only for Mr and Mrs Hashmi but also for the many other families who find themselves in this distressing situation.

“The use of such technology is morally appropriate when strictly regulated and licensed. This ruling allows the Hashmis and other couples to make their own personal and private decision, enabling them to move forward.”

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