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France's first "saviour sibling" born

Reuters/GonzaloFuentes

Doctors in France announced on Monday the country's first birth of a "saviour sibling", a baby with genetic characteristics selected by genetic engineering and in vitro fertilisation to care for a sibling affected by an incurable hereditary disease.

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The baby's name is Umat-Talha, Turkish for "our hope". He was born at Antoine Beclere Hospital in the Parisian suburb of Clamart on 26 January, weighing 3.65 kilos.

The baby was found to be a close enough genetic match to provide treatment cells from umbilical cord blood, a rich source of stem cells.

"The process consists in sampling an embryonic cell in vitrio and performing a genetic diagnostic," explained Dr. Rene Frydman in a press conference, to determine whether "the embryo is affected, unscathed or a carrier" of the disease".

The child's embryo was selected to ensure he did not carry the gene for beta thalassemia, a genetic disorder that destroys red blood cells and leads to anemia.

Through cell transplants, the baby's cells can be used to care for his older brother, who suffers from beta thalassemia.

The announcement of France's first  bébé-médicament  (whose English term is "designer baby") raised some objections, particularly from religious groups.

Andre Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, expressed concern over "using someone exclusively for the service of someone else" and said the baby was "a tool to try and cure another child."

Christine Boutin, president of the Christian Democratic party, said the procedure was cause for alarm.

"The designer baby will always ask himself whether he exists for himself or for another," she remarked.

"Our society must choose what it wants to become either a protector of human dignity in the humanist tradition of France, or eugenecist for the instrumentalisation of the body and the person."

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