context in [Herald94]...
A British fertility clinic's plans to implant an egg from a white donor into a
black woman have created a controversy over so-called designer babies and the
ethical issues that modern medical technology presents.
Dr. Peter Brinsden, director of the Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge, said
doctors were likely to go along with the request from an unidentified couple -
the man is of mixed race, the woman black - to implant the woman with a donor
egg artificially fertilized with her partner's sperm. Since there is a
shortage of eggs from black donors, he said, the egg will probably come from a
"The child is going to be of mixed race, whatever we do," Dr. Brinsden said.
"Whether it is more black or more white is irrelevant."
His comments came amid reports that a clinic in Italy had enabled a black
woman to give birth to a white baby about six months ago. According to the
press reports, the woman, who was infertile because of a tumor, and was
married to a white man, asked for an egg from a white donor so her child could
escape racial discrimination.
In the last week, questions have been raised about the ages at which some
women are undergoing fertilized egg implantations. A 59-year-old British
woman, after treatment by Italian doctors, gave birth to twins over Christmas.
In Italy, according to press reports, a 62-year-old woman is now pregnant
after implantation of a fertilized egg.
This string of disclosures has prompted soul-searching among British medical
authorities and responses from politicians ranging from anger to bafflement.
Dame Jill Knight, who heads a health committee in Parliament, said that to
allow a couple to choose the ethnic identity of their child was "plain and
unvarnished genetic engineering, and as such must be unacceptable."
But David Blunkett, health spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, was more
measured in his response, saying that although he opposed "people playing with
the future of their child," he believed that "it's very difficult to say that
a couple cannot have a say in where the eggs should come from."
At issue is a technique, no longer at the frontier of medical technology, in
which an infertile woman is enabled to bear a child by having a fertilized
donor egg implanted into her uterus. The egg is fertilized in a laboratory,
generally with sperm from the woman's partner.
The technique of in vitro fertilization is more often used with a woman's own
eggs, and the resulting child is genetically related to both the man and
woman, just as it would be if conceived without artificial help.
But in cases in which the woman, because of age or a physical condition,
cannot produce eggs of her own, an egg from a donor can be used. In such
cases, the woman gives birth to a child to whom she is not genetically
related. A white woman can give birth to a black child, and vice versa.
Dr. Fleur Fisher, head of the ethics, science and information division of the
British Medical Association, told local news agencies that the cases
publicized last week demonstrated "how far reproductive technology is
"I don't think that either nationally or internationally we have developed an
adequate framework of ethical principles to support doctors who are helping
patients with fertility problems," Dr. Fisher said. "This is going to come to
the fore more frequently."
"It is not merely the instance of race," she pointed out, adding, "There are
other characteristics people will be able to select for."
The British couple seeking treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic are reportedly
eager to have their child resemble the father in skin color.
Dr. Brinsden said he saw no reason not to go ahead with implanting a white
donor's fertilized egg into the black woman's uterus. The major issue, he
said, is a shortage of eggs from black donors.
Hugh Whittall of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which
licenses clinics that perform implantation and similar procedures, agreed,
saying donations of eggs and sperm from blacks and other ethnic minorities
were not sufficient to meet demand.