British Panel Angers Both Sides In Rejecting 'Designer Baby' Application

July 7, 2008 - 8:12 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's fertility regulator has turned down an application to create a "designer baby," a decision that was attacked by both the applicants and by a pro-life watchdog group.

The couple that filed the application, Michelle and Jayson Whitaker, are also the parents of a boy with a rare blood disorder.

The Whitakers were hoping to use in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technology to create a baby that would be a tissue match for their ailing 3-year-old son. The new baby could then serve as a bone marrow donor for the Whitakers' ailing son.

But the U.K. Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) denied the couple permission to undergo the procedure, saying it would be illegal.

The case drew comparisons to the application of Raj and Shahana Hashmi, who wanted a new child to be able to act as a donor for their own sick son.

In that case, the HFEA gave the go-ahead to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) - where embryos are screened for a genetic disease - along with tissue typing, a process in which doctors choose embryos that match the existing child.

The main difference between the two cases was that the Hashmi child has a hereditary disease, whereas the Whitaker child has a non-hereditary or "sporadic" condition.

The authority said that according to its own regulations, it could only approve the combined PGD and tissue-typing procedure in cases where the new child would be at risk of contracting a hereditary disease.

The Whitakers have no increased risk of passing on a hereditary disease to their next child - thus their application was turned down.

"We have enormous sympathy for the affected child and his parents," said Dr. Maureen Dalziel, the HFEA's chief executive. "However, the authority is unable to approve this application for PGD/tissue typing because it does not meet the carefully considered criteria laid down to ensure that the procedure is lawful and ethical."

In a statement, the couple said they were "devastated" by the decision. They are thought to be considering a trip to a U.S. clinic for treatment.

"They don't understand the disorder - what he goes through, what we go through," Mr. Whitaker told reporters.

The Whitakers' doctor, Mohammed Tarranissi, said the ruling didn't surprise him. Tarranissi has clashed with the HFEA in the past and said the "designer baby" label given to the procedure was wrong.

"We are not designing anything. We do not have the technology to change embryos in the lab. All we do is test the embryo for specific problems. We don't have control on how they develop," he said.

Procedure controversial

After a consultation process ending last December, the HFEA said that the PGD procedure could be used, but that permission would be granted on a case-by-case basis only.

The HFEA was criticized for the Hashmi decision last month by the House of Commons science and technology committee. The committee said the authority had overstepped its bounds.

"Democracy is not served by unelected quangos taking decisions on behalf of parliament," the committee wrote.

The reasoning cited by the HFEA in Thursday's decision was attacked by Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE), a pro-life watchdog group.

CORE director Josephine Quintavalle said the HFEA made the "right decision but for completely the wrong reasons," and said ethical considerations were absent from the authority's decision.

"Any such application should be rejected outright on ethical grounds alone. We must protect at all times the personal autonomy and bodily integrity of the child created by IVF," she said. "To deliberately design a child as a tissue match for another is an abuse of the rights of the new baby."

CORE is currently challenging the HFEA's decision on the Hashmi case and recently won the right to a hearing in Britain's High Court.

Quintavalle said the authority's recent string of decisions "made no sense" and called for a democratic, accountable body to be appointed to oversee British fertility law.

"You've got to have a bioethics committee that reflects public opinion," she said.

E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.

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