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Genetically matched birth hoping to find cure for brother's blood disorder triggers ethics debate.

A British woman has given birth to a son after receiving fertility treatment in the United States to ensure the baby was a genetic match with his older brother, who suffers from a rare blood disorder.

Michelle Whitaker of Derbyshire in central England traveled to the Reproductive Genetics Institute (RGI) in Chicago for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and screening to select an embryo with matching tissue that might provide a cure for her son Charlie. She had been refused permission for the treatment in Britain on ethical grounds.

The birth of Jamie has been billed as Britain's first "designer baby," but Lana Rechitsky, MD of RGI said that description is completely wrong.

"These are not designer babies, and we are not introducing anything new," she told BBC radio. "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. In this case, there was no other way for Charlie to survive."

Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which oversees the industry, vetoed the treatment because Charlie does 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 Whitakers' case, the HFEA determined that Charlie's disease was not passed to him from his parents. Therefore, the new baby would not benefit from the screening technique.

Jamie's birth has fueled an ethical debate on embryo selection in Britain, where the HFEA approved the technique for another couple to save a son who is terminally ill due to a hereditary disease. Evan Harris, MD, 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 decisions, particularly if IVF 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 BMA spokeswoman Vivienne Nathanson, MD.

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. There is still a small chance, however, that Jamie may also have the disease, which requires regular transfusions and injections, or that he may not be a perfect match. Doctors won't know for sure until they perform additional tests when Jamie is 6 months old.

The couple also has a 2-year-old daughter, but she is not a tissue match for Charlie.
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Comment:Genetically matched birth hoping to find cure for brother's blood disorder triggers ethics debate.
Author:Correspondent, Michele Grygotis Transplant News Special
Publication:Transplant News
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 25, 2003
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