Six more couples want ‘designer babies’

A further six British couples want permission to create a ‘‘designer baby’’ following a ruling by Britain’s fertility watchdog.

A further six British couples want permission to create a ‘‘designer baby’’ following a ruling by Britain’s fertility watchdog.

Dr Simon Fishel, the Director of the Centre of Assisted Reproduction, said he would be surprised if he didn’t have another application for the embryo selection procedure within three months.

Dr Fishel said he had also received three recent inquiries from abroad about the treatment.

A ruling by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority last Friday sparked a furore when it allowed a couple to go ahead with the embryo selection process.

Raj and Shahana Hashmi’s three-year-old son Zain, has beta thalassaemia major which creates potentially fatal levels of iron in his blood.

His condition can be cured only by a bone marrow transplant from a perfect genetic match and so far a search has failed to find a suitable donor.

This embryo selection will enable cells from the ‘‘designer’’ baby’s umbilical cord to be used for a transplant to save Zain’s life.

The couple, from Moortown in Leeds, justified their decision to go through with the selection by saying that they were not picking physical features like the sex or eye colour, but the fundamental genetic make-up.

Treatment will begin within the next two months.

Dr Fishel, who is based at Nottingham’s Park Hospital, told PA News yesterday: ‘‘There are six other couples who have expressed an interest because they cannot get a match from the donor bank.’’

He said these couples were at the beginning of the process and added it was not guaranteed that they would all proceed.

He said: ‘‘The process the Hashmis went through included extensive medical and scientific consultation.’’

The couples hoping to follow suit would also go through that consultation in addition to implication counselling.

He said all the couples had children with life-threatening conditions but it was impossible to predict how much time their youngsters actually had.

Mrs Hashmi has said: ‘‘This baby is going to be a special gift from nature, not a designer baby. We are not destroying anything. We are not hurting anybody.’’

Zain is currently given injections every day and a blood transfusion every three to four weeks to keep him alive.

The treatment causes side-effects like night blindness, aching muscles and limbs, swollen legs, sickness, diarrhoea, rashes and tiredness and his parents are desperate to relieve him from the pain.

Critics, however sympathetic, are concerned that this ruling will pave the way for designer babies and couples with less ethical motives to be able to select the physical features of their prospective children.

But Mrs Hashmi, 37, said that Zain too had a right to life and that she had a duty, as his mother, to help relieve his pain.

She said: ‘‘It has been a living nightmare for him. And when he gets a little bit older, he will know he is going to die. How is he going to feel if he knows something could have been done to save his life?’’

During their three-year battle to find a donor for Zain, the couple have had another child, Haris, who is free of the disease, but whose tissue type does not match that of his brother.

Mr Hashmi, 39, a BT supervisor, has helped his wife compile a scrapbook of all the stories written about their plans so that the child will be able to see how important he or she is.

The other embryos created as part of the selection will not be destroyed but will be frozen.

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