A “designer baby” is the term used to describe a baby whosegenetic makeup has been designed so that a particular gene or defect iseradicated or a more desirable gene or quality is expressed. To achieve this, embryos are created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF)and grown to the eight-cell stage, at which point one or two cells are removed.Then in a process known as pre-implantation diagnosis (PGD), scientists thenexamine the DNA of these cells for defects and particular traits, and onlyhealthy embryos with the desired traits are placed in the womb to develop. Aparticular aim of some parents who chose to have a designer baby is for the purposeof the child becoming a saviour sibling.
A savioursibling is a child who is developed for the specific purpose of being a tissuedonor for a sick relative. For a baby to be a suitable saviour sibling theymust be a suitable tissue match be free from the disease affecting their sicksibling.One such case is the case of Molly Nash, who wasborn with Fanconi anaemia, a rare incurable genetic condition that rendered herbody unable to produce blood cells. Molly’s only chance of survival was atransplant but since there were no suitable donors in her family, Molly’sparents made the decision to undergo IVF treatment followed by PGD to insurethat the embryo was a suitable tissue match and was not carrying the gene forFanconi Anaemia. After four IVF attempts, Molly’s mother gave birth to a babyboy named Adam. When Adam was born blood was harvested and saved from theumbilical cord.
Molly then underwent chemotherapy to destroy her bone marrowand was transplanted the saved cord blood. Within three years of the transplantMolly had shown haematopoietic and immune recovery.Although Molly was successfully cured of herdisease there are many ethical issues surrounding the case. The Nash familyunderwent IVF and PGD. A common argument is that PGD may save the saviour sibling, but itdisregards the other embryos and therefore potential children. Molly’s parents needed to have a perfect embryo designed freefrom the Fanconi anaemia disease and a suitable tissue match for Molly, otherfertilized embryos who did not meet these requirements were discarded or usedfor genetic or reproductive research. The question must then be asked is itethical to disregard so many potential human beings to find one to potentiallycure a single sick child? In response to this, it can be argued that it isbeneficial to the embryo to undergo PGD because it prevents them from being bornwith the deadly genetic disease that is killing their older sibling.
Ensuringthat the embryo is healthy before implantation prevents unnecessary suffering forboth the child and the family of the child, while in the case of savioursiblings simultaneously saving a life.Some ethicistsfear that the saviour sibling, only born to cure or treat a pre-existing sickchild, may suffer psychological problems later in life due to the possibilityof an upset in the family dynamic leaving the saviour sibling feeling like asecond class sibling, who is not as wanted and loved as the sibling they wereborn to save. However, this falls more to the nature of the parenting and the waythe parent chooses to raise their children, and doesn’t relate directly to theconcept of the saviour siblings as parents may still treat two childrendifferently even if one is not a saviour sibling. In the opinion of some, producinga saviour sibling is labelling the child as an instrument or object who’s mainpurpose in life serves as a ’tissue bank’ in curing another child, However, inmany cases children are born with a specific purpose for example continuity offamily lineage, company for a pre-existing child etc. In the case of saviour siblings IVF and PGDare very expensive and the decision to go through rigorous rounds is not adecision to be taken lightly. A family that go through, in most cases, the heartacheof unsuccessful attempts and the financial stress of conceiving a child fromare unlikely to do anything that would cause the child great harm. In the Nash case, only cord blood cells wereused in the transplant, which came from an already-separated umbilical cord anon-invasive and painless procedure with no long term effects on the savioursibling. Even if it comes to the point where the Molly needed a bone marrowtransplant, there is a precedent in the medical community that these moreinvasive procedures are ethically acceptable.
After the procedure, both children lead relativelynormal lives and the genetic material provided by the saviour sibling ultimately savedthe life of the pre-existing sick child. While minimal harm was done to thesaviour sibling, the pre-existing sick child was cured of their illness and thefamily dynamic restored to one without the stress of caring for a deathly illmember. In conclusion, itis an ethical reproductive procedure to use PGD to conceive a child that is aperfect genetic match to a pre-existing sick child in order to use theirgenetic material to cure said sick child. .
Utilitarianism suggests that thebenefits of saving the life of a child outweigh the costs of donated cord bloodor tissue, thus making it ethical to conceive a child for the purpose of curinganother.