This week's BioNews reports on the latest news about the Hashmi family, who were recently given leave to continue with an embryo screening which might provide life-saving treatment for their son, Zain. A Court of Appeal ruling in April gave them the go-ahead, but details of the three judges' decision has only just been made public. The overriding message from the appeal court was: there will be no 'free-for-all'. But what exactly do they mean by this?
The legal case turned on the matter of whether the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) had the powers to grant a license for the procedure to take place in the first place. Although embryo screening PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) for serious genetic conditions has been available to UK couples for some years, the Hashmi's request for treatment went one step further. They want not only to make sure that their next child is free from the inherited condition which affects their son, but also to ensure that that child would be a matched tissue donor for him. The HFEA considered this to be a reasonable request and, ultimately, the Court of Appeal agreed. So why all the talk of preventing a free-for-all?
The judges were keen to stress that Parliament did not intend for the HFEA to license PGD for any reason. And so, according to Lord Justice Schiemann, 'If the decision of the Authority is upheld in the present case it does not mean that parents have a right to IVF (in vitro fertilisation) for social selection purposes'. What the court did not want to sanction was the use of PGD for non-medical reasons such as sex selection, although this is not something the HFEA [has shown any desire to] necessarily wants to license.
However, the ruling must surely mean that couples in the same position as the Hashmis, who want PGD for their prospective child as well as to help an existing child, will also be given permission to go ahead with treatment. The HFEA might treat applications on a case by case basis, but it nonetheless has to be consistent and fair. This is good news for other couples who want to maximise the health and well-being of their current and future children.