Fertilisation authority to challenge High Court tissue ruling

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 04 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:11
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    The UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is to appeal against a surprise High Court ruling just before Christmas, that banned the screening of embryos by tissue typing in the United Kingdom to create a donor sibling for a sick child.

    The decision has dealt a severe blow to Raj and Shahana Hashmi of Leeds, who planned to undergo their third course of treatment with in vitro fertilisation after Christmas. The couple were given permission by the authority to use tissue typing to try to select an embryo whose umbilical cord blood could provide a cure for their 3 year old son, Zain, who has β thalassaemia. They have been trying since last July, so far without success.

    The ruling is a victory for pro-life campaigner Josephine Quintavalle, who brought the High Court challenge on behalf of the pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics.

    Mr Justice Maurice Kay ruled that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which governs the use of embryos in the United Kingdom, does not allow embryo selection by tissue typing. The act gives the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority the power only to license activities for the purpose of helping women with fertility problems carry a child to term.

    Some commentators suggested that if tissue typing was outside the remit of the authority, it was not covered by the law at all. But the judge said that was not so: it could not have been parliament's intention to leave such a controversial area unregulated.

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