London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's first "designer baby," the second child of its type delivered anywhere in the world, has been born to a couple looking for a tissue match for their sick older son.
The baby girl was one of several embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) and selected by doctors who hope stem cells extracted from her umbilical cord could help her 4-year-old brother battle leukemia.
Although the anonymous couple gave birth in a London hospital Saturday, they underwent the IVF treatment at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago. The combined embryo selection and tissue typing procedure has not yet been used in Britain.
The institute also created the world's first baby using the procedure, born to help a 3-year-old sister with the rare and eventually fatal genetic disorder Fanconi's anemia.
Five U.K. clinics are licensed to perform pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which tests fertilized embryos for genetic diseases. But the key step in creating a so-called "designer baby" is a tissue-typing test that checks if an embryo can provide a match with an older sibling.
In December of last year, the U.K.'s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) decided in principal to allow the combination procedure in cases where couples are at risk of passing on a serious genetic disease to their offspring and already have one ailing child.
Licences to perform the operation will be granted on a case-by-case basis.
The couple's U.K. doctor, Mohammed Taranissi, has expressed his desire to build a London clinic to regularly perform the procedure. Taranissi said that even if the HFEA turns down his application, he will go ahead with plans to open the clinic.
The doctor batted down claims that children would be seen as superfluous providers of cells for their older siblings.
"Anyone who could see the look of love and happiness on their faces could not argue that this child is a 'spare part' baby or anything of the sort," Taranissi told reporters after Saturday's birth. "It was a highly emotional occasion and there were tears of sheer joy from the parents."
Pro-life activists were more critical of the procedure. Bruno Quintavalle, director of the Pro-Life Alliance, said fertility doctors and the HFEA are quickly sliding down a slippery ethical slope.
"This is the first step along the road to eugenics," Quintavalle said Tuesday. "If one concedes the principle that it's OK to perform this procedure for a sick child, where does one draw the line, and what logical argument obligates you to stop at siblings?"
Quintavalle said a child could be selected for physical features or to provide parts for parents or a third party, even though the HFEA rules currently make such genetic tinkering illegal.
"We also worry about what effect this has on children," he said. "The proposed child becomes a mere source of parts for the elder sibling ... it's not in the child's interest to undergo invasive medical procedures for the health of someone else.
"There are serious questions this raises about eugenics and the commodification of children," Quintavalle said.
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