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A tissue-matched baby: what's wrong with that?

Juliet Tizzard

Progress Educational Trust

15 May 2003

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[BioNews, London] This week's BioNews reports on the defeat in the Court of Appeal of a legal attempt to stop preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and tissue typing in the UK. The ruling means that the Raj and Shahana Hashmi can now continue with treatment to have a child who is free from beta thalassaemia and able to be a bone marrow donor to the couple's sick child, Zain.

The Hashmis were obviously delighted at the ruling. Others, however, weren't so pleased. Paul Tully, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, was unsurprisingly dismayed at the Court of Appeal judgement. He said: 'Just because a child's life is at stake does not mean you disregard all ethics.' This is very true. Few would disagree that it would be wrong to kill one child in order to save the life of another. But that's not what is being proposed here. During PGD, embryos are tested a few days after fertilisation to see whether they will develop the disease in question. Those that will not are transferred to the woman: those that will are destroyed.

Most people simply don't share the sensibilities of pro-life lobby. They don't think destroying an embryo is morally equivalent to killing a baby or a child or an adult. They think that destroying an embryo is legitimate when the purpose is to maximise the health of others. In fact, according to a survey mentioned in this week's BioNews, 70 percent of Britons agree that destructive research on human embryos is acceptable when the goal is to treat serious diseases.

Some commentators are concerned that a child conceived in order to save its sibling will be compromised in some way, whether or not their bone marrow cells save the sibling. The Hashmis have already had another child, Harris, since Zain was born, in the hope that he would be a tissue match (unfortunately, he was not). Has anyone questioned this little boy's welfare? No, they have not. This is perhaps because when couples make a private decision to have a child, no-one questions their motivations. However, when a technology like preimplantation genetic diagnosis is involved, many assume that the couple's intentions are malign.

As Yvonne Roberts in the Independent on Sunday observes, couples have babies for all manner of reasons and invariably end up with happy and well-rounded children. As little Harris demonstrates, children who are brought into the world with a particular hope in mind are generally loved and cared for just as well as any other child - even when that hope is never fulfilled. If the Hashmis can do this naturally, leaving things to chance, why shouldn't they be able to do it with the help of doctors and scientists, trying to push chance a little more in their favour?

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 15 May 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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