News this week that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has turned down an application for PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) and tissue typing has bemused many people. Why has the HFEA denied the Whitakers access to the procedure when it was happy to let the Hashmi family go ahead under similar circumstances? The answer, it seems, lies in the reason for which the request was made. The Hashmis wanted PGD to avoid a genetic condition in their next child, as well as to ensure that it would be a compatible donor. The Whitakers want PGD solely to get a compatible donor.
The HFEA says that its decision was informed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act and the results of a consultation on PGD which it launched in November 1999. But these documents are by no means clear on the issue. The Act says that the HFEA can license procedures which determine whether embryos are 'in a suitable condition to be placed in a woman' - what 'suitable' means is open to interpretation. The result of the consultation on PGD, based upon 171 responses, is also unclear on this issue: the consultation paper makes no mention of PGD and tissue typing at all.
The HFEA was also concerned about the 'welfare of the child' provision in the Act. It is clearly in a child's best interests to be born healthy, but does that extend to being a tissue donor? It's worth remembering that in the Act, the welfare of the child not only requires consideration of the child born of treatment, but also of 'any other child who may be affected by the birth'. Furthermore, if PGD and tissue typing does not compromise the welfare of the Hashmi's next child, it's hard to see how it would have a deleterious effect upon the Whitaker's next child. Unfortunately, it isn't hard to see how denying access to PGD and tissue typing will have a deleterious effect upon Charlie Whitaker.