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U.K. Couple Has Baby to Save Other Child

June 19, 2003

LONDON (AP) _ A British couple have had a baby by in vitro fertilization, seeking an exact tissue match to help their first son who is seriously ill with a blood ailment, a hospital confirmed Thursday.

Jayson and Michelle Whitaker resorted to fertility treatments in the United States after British authorities had barred the couple from having a test tube baby who would have been a genetic match for their ill son Charlie.

Michelle gave birth to Jamie at a hospital in Sheffield, northern England, on Monday.

He was conceived through in vitro fertilization and genetically matched, while still an embryo, to his 4-year-old brother Charlie, who suffers from Diamond Blackfan Anemia.

The extremely rare condition requires regular blood transfusions. Charlie needs a bone marrow transplant, and his parents were hoping to produce a sibling whose tissue type matched.

The blood in Jamie’s umbilical cord contains bone marrow stem cells that could be used to treat his big brother.

The Whitakers sought permission from Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to create and select an embryo that would be a match for Charlie. When permission was denied in August, they had treatment at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago.

Critics worry that such selection could lead to babies being created to provide spare parts.

But the boys’ father, Jayson Whitaker, was quoted by the Daily Mail newspaper as saying ``there was no selection on the basis of color of eyes or hair or sex.

``All we did was change the odds from a one-in-four chance of a tissue match (from a baby conceived naturally) to a 98 percent chance,″ he said.

During in vitro fertilization, several embryos are created but only two or three are implanted in the womb. Genetic tests are normally done when one or both parents carry an inherited disorder, to let doctors be sure the embryo they implant does not have the disease-causing genes.

In December 2001, the fertilization authority announced that it would, in principle, permit couples to select test-tube embryos whose tissue type matches that of a sick sibling, only if the couple already qualified for embryo testing to avoid passing on an inherited disease.

Last year the authority gave another couple, Shahana and Raj Hashmi, permission to test to make sure tissue from their next child would be a suitable match for their ailing 2-year-old son, Zain, who suffers from a rare blood disorder.

In that case, the boy’s illness was hereditary. Screening the new baby would be necessary anyway to ensure the new child did not have the disease.

But Charlie Whitaker’s condition is not usually inherited.

Cases of embryo selection for matching tissue for sick siblings have occurred in the United States, where private fertility clinics are unregulated.

Dr. Lana Rechitsky, a doctor at the Chicago institute that treated the Whitakers, said the procedure did not amount to creating ``designer babies.″

``We are not creating anything new. We are just trying to choose between the embryos to find the one that is normal and can save the life of its sibling,″ she told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

But Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, advised caution.

``This is an area of considerable legal and ethical uncertainty, and we currently don’t think it’s right that just because we can do something, we should immediately start doing it,″ she told the BBC.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the only regulator of its kind in the world, controls practices of fertility clinics and embryo research.

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