A couple from Melbourne, Australia, are to be allowed to use IVF in conjunction with genetic screening and tissue typing in order to have a baby who can donate cells from its umbilical cord to save a sibling with a terminal disease.
The ethics committee of the Epworth Hospital in Melbourne has said the procedure can be used there. It was asked by the Melbourne couple to consider the treatment after the Australian Infertility Treatment Authority (ITA) approved the technique last year. The technique involves creating embryos using IVF, screening them to make sure they are free from disease, then testing them to see if they are a tissue match for the existing child.
Helen Szoke, a spokeswoman for the ITA, said that there would be strict conditions to be met if the procedure is to be used in order to make sure that it was not abused, adding that the ITA has 'required, for example, that only cord blood or bone marrow be used, that the condition of the existing child is fairly severe, that other opportunities for treatment have been exhausted'.
The tissue typing procedure was originally highlighted in the USA when it was used to help save Molly Nash in 2000. It was then given a theoretical green light by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in December 2001 after a request for the treatment from the Hashmi family, whose son Zain suffers from beta thalassaemia. In February 2002, the Hashmis were allowed to begin the procedure and had two unsuccessful attempts at IVF before the HFEA's decision to allow the treatment was challenged in the High Court by pro-lifers. The court ruled that the HFEA had acted beyond its legal powers in allowing IVF with tissue-typing to select matched donor embryos. He went on to express his great sympathy for the Hashmis, and gave the HFEA permission to appeal against the ruling, saying that the case raised matters of the utmost importance. In a brief press release issued before Christmas, the HFEA said it was disappointed with the decision and that it would appeal. In the meantime, no tissue typing can take place in the UK so the Hashmis have had to delay further attempts.