I enjoy debate with anyone who grapples fairly with ethical issues, on the grounds that sooner or later the strength of arguments will win out. So despite being slightly perturbed by the subtitle, "Questions of life and death are too important to be decided by zealots and dogmatists", I wrote to Observer columnist, Mary Riddell, to point out that her article in the Observer entitled "Beware the moral minority" (March 27, 2005), contained a number of factual errors, when she wrote:
"It is iniquitous that couples like the Hashmis, now awaiting an imminent verdict from the House of Lords, have had to fight so hard to have a baby who can provide stem cells to cure their six-year-old son, Zain, of a serious blood disorder.... such cases are for parents and doctors, not for pro-lifers leeching their sanctity from other people's heartbreak."
This is the kinds of misunderstanding and inaccuracy that has been passing as fact in the media as a whole, whereas the reality is that the arguments against designer babies or "saviour siblings" is much more weighty and evidence based, certainly not irrational. I wrote to her to say that this is incorrect for a number of reasons:
1) the Hashmi family were not prevented from continuing with IVF, and have been trying for a number of years to have a baby that is a tissue match. The court case has in no way prevented them from continuing to do this (the Whittakers for example, went ahead anyway). However the Hashmi family have been unsuccessful.
It is inaccurate to imply that tissue matching is an easy solution. In November last year, it was widely reported that the Hashmis are instead appealing for bone marrow donation. I am sure you are aware of this, see TheGuardian
2) One of the major arguments against allowing the creation of saviour siblings is that it is unnecessary and the preferable medical approach would be to routinely collect and store umbilical cord blood which is currently thrown away, and also encourage more bone marrow donation. Those of us who oppose the creation of babies to provide donor tissue have been calling for the routine collection of umbilical cord blood for years. I joined the bone marrow donation register in 2003. If umbilical cord and bone marrow donation was much more widespread, Zain Hashmi may have been cured by now. There was a very good article on this in the Guardian in November last year:
3) Finally can I point you to CORE's reasons for the legal challenge, which I think cannot be described as anything but strongly rational?
HFEA designer baby decision unethical, unnecessary and undemocratic (26 July 2004)
I hope that if you accept my points above, you might be willing to include these points in any further article you write on this subject. It is wrong to misrepresent opposition as "pro-lifers leeching their sanctity from other people's heartbreak". There are serious ethical issues at stake for the baby that is created, and any rational analysis has a duty to factor this into deliberation. It is not clear to me how the heartbreak of parents in this dilemma is helped by tissue typing methods which are much slower and ethically problematic compared to society being committed to developing a readily available source of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow."
Mary Riddell was kind enough to write back and acknowledge some of my arguments while siding with the couple who wanted to create the donor-child, despite the evidence against this position.