| Shahana and Raj Hashmi in London. (AFP)
London, April 7: The mother seeking to create a “designer baby” in order to save her son’s life will have the treatment in America if the British courts rule that it is illegal.
Shahana Hashmi, 39, from Leeds, is currently awaiting a Court of Appeal ruling on whether she can use IVF to become pregnant with a child who would be a perfect bone-marrow match for her chronically ill son Zain, four. The court, which has reserved its judgment, is being asked to overturn a high court ruling that the procedure is unlawful in Britain.
Shahana said if the appeal fails, she would defy the ban by travelling to America for treatment before returning to Britain to have the child.
“If things go our way, we’ll finish the treatment here,” she said. “If they don’t, we’ll fly out to the United States. We’re not going to give up.”
Shahana and her husband Raj want to have a child that is a perfect tissue match for Zain, who has the genetic blood disorder beta-thalassaemia.
A small amount of blood taken from the umbilical cord as the new baby is born could contain enough embryonic bone-marrow cells to cure Zain, who must undergo distressing treatment daily. Without such a transplant, he faces an early death.
Last year, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) granted permission for the couple to have IVF treatment with the aim of selecting embryos that are a tissue match for Zain while being free the beta-thalassaemia gene.
However, a high court judge ruled in December that the HFEA did not have the legal power to allow such tissue-typing of healthy embryos.
The case was brought by Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core), a “Pro-Life” pressure group, which argued that it was for Parliament, not the HFEA, to decide on what could be the first step towards the creation of “designer babies”.
The Hashmis, who have five children, believe that IVF and embryo selection is Zain’s only hope. Shahana is planning to begin IVF treatment at home at Easter. If the appeal court rules against her, she will travel to the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago for the final stages of the process towards the end of June.
“They will take a small biopsy, which is literally one cell from each embryo. This is put with a molecular probe which sorts out the healthy embryos from those with beta-thalassaemia and finds those that are a tissue match. They will be able to tell the whole thing within 72 hours.”
The selected embryos would then be implanted in Shahana’s womb, allowing her to return to Britain to have the child. If the treatment succeeds, she also plans to bring any unused healthy embryos home for donation. “It would be nice to think that we were able to do something very positive with them. It has taken so long to create them it would be nice to bring happiness to other people too,” she said.