ffw: Patricia Reaney, Reuters | 20.06.2003 09:02 | Health
Thu June 19, 2003 08:56 AM ET
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - A British woman has given birth to a son after receiving fertility treatment in the United States to ensure the baby was genetically matched to help cure an older brother who suffers from a rare form of anemia.
Michelle Whitaker, of Derbyshire in central England, had in-vitro fertilization and screening to select an embryo with matching tissue at a clinic in Chicago to help her older son Charlie.
She had been refused permission for the treatment in Britain on ethical grounds.
The birth of Jamie on Monday has been billed as Britain's first "designer baby" but Dr Lana Rechitsky of the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago where Whitaker was treated said that description is completely wrong.
"These are not designer babies and we are not introducing anything new. What we are doing is trying to choose from a few different embryos the one which is normal and which can save the life of the sibling," she told BBC radio.
Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which oversees the industry, vetoed the treatment because Charlie did not have a hereditary illness.
"We have particular criteria that allow tissue-typing -- one of them is that the embryo has to be at risk of the disease," said a spokeswoman for the HFEA.
In the case of the Whitakers the HFEA determined that Charlie's disease was not passed on from his parents and that the new baby would not therefore also benefit from the screening technique.
Jamie's birth has stirred up an ethical debate on embryo selection in Britain where the HFEA approved the technique for another couple, Raj and Shahana Hashmi, to save their terminally ill son who, by contrast, has a hereditary disease.
Dr Evan Harris, a politician who has followed the case closely, said some people feel very strongly that the state should not interfere in a couple's fertility decision, especially if it could save the life of someone else.
The British Medical Association (BMA) also supports the selection of embryos to save a sibling.
"As doctors, we believe that where technology exists that could help a dying or seriously ill child, without involving major risks for others, then it can only be right that it is used for this purpose," said the BMA's Dr Vivienne Nathanson in a statement.
The hope is that stem cells from Jamie's umbilical cord will help Charlie, who suffers from Diamond Blackfan anemia. The same IVF technique and screening was successful for another family treated at the Chicago clinic.
But there is still a small chance that Jamie may also have the disease, which requires regular transfusions and injections, or that he may not be a perfect match. The Whitakers will have to wait six months and see the results of further tests before doctors will be sure.
"There was no other way for Charlie to survive," Chicago's Rechitsky added.
The Whitakers also have a two-year-old daughter but she is not a tissue match for her older brother.
ffw: Patricia Reaney, Reuters