The UK's House of Lords has ruled that the decision taken by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow the Hashmi family to try to create a 'saviour sibling' was lawful. The highest court in the UK heard the appeal case of Quintavalle (On behalf of Comment on Reproductive Ethics) V HFEA last month. The ruling means that the HFEA can continue to issue treatment licences for families who want to conceive an IVF baby that could provide tissue-matched cord blood to help treat a sick sibling.
The Hashmis were given permission by the HFEA in 2002 to use PGD and tissue typing, in order to have a healthy child that would also be a genetic match for their seriously ill son, Zain. They hoped that cells taken from the umbilical cord of the new child - dubbed a 'saviour sibling' - could be used to treat Zain's condition, a rare inherited blood disorder called beta thalassaemia. Six year-old Zain is kept alive by regular blood transfusions, and there is no matched donor for him on the bone marrow register.
Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core), a pro-life pressure group, took a judicial review action against the HFEA's decision in 2002. The High Court ruled that the HFEA had acted outside of its remit, and that the treatment could not go ahead. But the Court of Appeal, in April 2003, overturned that decision, meaning that the Hashmis could continue with attempts at the treatment. Shahana Hashmi has since miscarried a number of times, but the couple were planning to try the procedure again early in 2005.
However, Core appealed against the Court of Appeal decision, and the case was heard by Lords Steyn, Hoffman, Scott, Walker and Brown in March 2005. Core has now lost this case, and will have to pay all the resulting legal costs. Its director, Josephine Quintavalle, said after today's ruling: 'We are absolutely devastated. This decision will open the door to designer babies, but the door will be closed again when parliament looks at this and realises the error'.
Shahana Hashmi said that 'it's been a long and hard battle for all the family and we have finally heard the news we wanted to hear', adding 'we feel this ruling marks a new era and we are happy to move forward now'. Simon Fishel, the fertility doctor treating the Hashmis said: 'I trust that a line has now been drawn in our society whereby individual families, with guidance from their medical practitioners, can make their own choices without extraordinarily long and compromising legal battles'.
Alison Murdoch, chair of the British Fertility Society (BFS), agreed with Dr Fishel, saying that the BFS 'agrees with many of the MPs on the recent select committee on reproductive technologies who argue that unless there is evidence of harm to the child or society, decisions about reproduction should be left with families'.
Laura Riley, director of Progress Educational Trust, commented that the House of Lords decision 'should be applauded', but said that 'unfortunately for the Hashmis themselves, their attempts to have a healthy child who could also help save the life of their son Zain have been severely hampered by pro-life group Core's efforts, over the last two and a half years, to deny the legitimacy of this procedure. Today's ruling proves that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which has had Parliament's authority to make these decisions since 1991, was right to license the Hashmi's treatment in February 2002'.