December 23, 2002
UK Court Rejects IVF Embryo Selection For Donor Baby

In the UK one can't choose genetic qualities of IVF babies before implantation.

Britain's High Court has barred a couple from creating a 'designer baby' to try to save the life of their sick child.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the court said the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has no legal power to authorise such a treatment, the Guardian reported.

The judge found that UK law prohibits selection for particular genetic qualities in babies.

The case focused on a decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow Raj and Shahana Hashmi, from Leeds, to select an embryo to provide a life-saving transplant for their son, Zain, who has a rare genetic blood disorder. The Hashmis have been trying for a new baby using the technique since July, but will now have to stop.

In his surprise ruling, Mr Justice Maurice Kay said the HFEA had acted beyond its legal powers. Under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, it could grant licences to clinics "for the purpose of assisting women to carry children" and to ensure embryos were in a suitable condition for that purpose.

Had the Hashmi's succeeded in creating a suitable baby then at birth the stem cells from the baby could have been injected into their existing child Zain.

Neither the couple nor their four other children are bone marrow matches for Zain, who suffers from the rare blood disorder thalassaemia and is expected to die without a transplant. Stem cells taken from the baby's umbilical cord at birth could replace Zain's bone marrow.

By contrast, in the United States this technique is practiced. Recall the story back in 2000 when Jack and Lisa Nash had a daughter Molly who suffered from a genetic disorder called Fanconi anemia. The Nashes elected to have IVF done and an embryo selected that would be free of the disease. Lisa Nash then had an embryo implanted that was free of the Fanconi mutation.

Her parents, Jack and Lisa Nash of Englewood, Colo., wanted more children but were afraid to conceive because both carry a faulty version of the Fanconi gene, meaning each child would have a 25 percent chance of developing the disease.

The Nashes used a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD: Embryos were created from Lisa Nash's eggs and her husband's sperm. Then the fertilized eggs were analyzed, and when one was found to be disease-free and a tissue match, it was implanted. The couple had to try the procedure several times before she became pregnant.

Lisa then gave birth on August 29,2000 to a healthy baby Adam and used his umbilical stem cells to treat his older sister Molly.

The test tube baby, named Adam, was born in Denver on Aug. 29. Doctors collected cells from his umbilical cord, a painless procedure, and on Sept. 26 infused them into his sister Molly's circulatory system. The girl is recuperating in a Minneapolis hospital, and within about a week doctors should know whether the procedure was successful.

Whether or not the transplant works, doctors and ethicists said, the procedure is both a promising and worrisome harbinger of where scientific advances are taking human reproduction in the near future--at least for those who can afford to take that path.

This treatment worked for Molly Nash.

Six weeks after her brother Adam was born--he was genetically selected and tissue-typed from 15 embryos to match her--his umbilical cord blood was infused into her and she is now reported to be a thriving, healthy little girl.

In the United States there is still relatively little reproductive technology legislation enacted on either the state or federal level (though many bills have been introduced and interest continues to run high).

Although it did enact the Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act to require reporting of success rates from IVF clinics2, the federal government generally remains reluctant to regulate reproductive technologies. Only a handful of states have enacted reproductive technology legislation and, with the exception of legislation aimed at reproductive cloning (see Table 1)3, most focus solely on record keeping and physician involvement in artificial insemination4. Louisiana, for example, is the only state that explicitly prohibits the sale of human oocytes, whereas Virginia is the only state that explicitly sanctions the sale of human oocytes5.

In the USA the debate over embryonic stem cells is far from resolved. By contrast, in the UK the government is very supportive of embryonic stem cell research. But as the recent UK ruling on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis demonstrates, on the manipulation and selection of fertilized eggs for the purpose of reproduction it is the USA that allows the greater freedom for making individual choices.

The UK's regulatory regime will likely give the UK an edge in developing therapies that utilize embryonic stem cells. But the regulatory regime (or lack thereof) in America currently provides a greater opportunity for the development of techniques for the genetic engineering of offspring.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 December 23 01:34 AM  Bioethics Reproduction

T. J. Madison said at December 26, 2002 5:12 AM:

Well, maybe there's hope for the airline industry after all.

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