British Pro-Life Activist Wins 'Designer Baby' Case

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

London ( - A British court on Friday ruled in favor of a pro-life group and struck down a decision by the country's fertility authority that allowed the creation of so-called "designer babies."

Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) had argued that the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority overstepped its powers by approving the use of tissue typing, a process that creates an IVF baby whose umbilical cord cells can potentially help an ailing sibling.

The HFEA first approved the procedure in February in response to a request by the parents of Zain Hashmi, a child with the potentially fatal blood disorder thalassaemia.

In addition to tissue typing, the Hashmis' IVF embryos have undergone a procedure called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to ensure that the future child will not develop thalassaemia. Doctors plan to use cells from the new child's umbilical cord to treat Zain.

The High Court ruled, however, that the HFEA had no authority to approve the procedure.

Josephine Quintavalle of CORE emphasized that the case was not directly about the ethics of tissue typing, but rather about the lack of a democratic decision-making process in the embryology arena.

"We are obviously delighted with this judgment, but this is primarily a victory for the supremacy of Parliament," Quintavalle said. "Such highly contentious ethical issues are for Parliament alone to decide."

"The regulatory powers of the HFEA are contained within a defined framework which simply does not include tissue typing," she said.

Quintavalle and other activists argue that tissue typing is a significant step towards allowing parents to choose the characteristics of their children, such as sex and eye color.

"With social sex selection around the corner and innumerable other designer baby possibilities on the horizon, today's judgment is particularly timely," Quintavalle said. "These vital issues involve the very essence of what it is to be human. Parliament alone is the correct arena for decisions of such magnitude."

The HFEA stated that it intends to appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed by this unexpected judgment," a spokeswoman said. "We will be considering it extremely carefully and taking legal advice."

The Hashmis have tried to begin a pregnancy several times using the tissue typing technique, but have so far been unsuccessful. It was unclear Friday whether the decision would halt the Hashmis' next attempt to create a second child to aid their son.

The HFEA said that there was uncertainty about the implications of the judgment. After the authority's lawyers review the decision, the spokeswoman said, an announcement will be made in the new year.

The clinic treating the Hashmis, the Centers for Assisted Reproduction in Nottingham, England, declined to comment on the judgment or its implications.

Quintavalle said she didn't expect the Hashmis to end their attempt to have a child using the tissue typing procedure and said that CORE didn't want to enter into arguments over individual cases.

"This is not about the ethics of the Hashmi case or any other case," she said. "We simply want to make sure that the HFEA is no longer able to move forward in an undemocratic way."

CORE's case won key legislative support Friday from Labor MP Ian Gibson, chairman of the parliamentary science and technology committee.

Gibson told BBC radio that he was in favor of creating designer babies "in very extreme situations" but agreed that Parliament should debate and decide upon tissue typing and related issues.

"I think there's a whole new arena of genetics which is going to demand new legislation," he said.

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