A “designer baby” is the term used to describe a baby whose
genetic makeup has been designed so that a particular gene or defect is
eradicated 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 then
examine the DNA of these cells for defects and particular traits, and only
healthy embryos with the desired traits are placed in the womb to develop. A
particular aim of some parents who chose to have a designer baby is for the purpose
of the child becoming a saviour sibling.

 A saviour
sibling is a child who is developed for the specific purpose of being a tissue
donor for a sick relative. For a baby to be a suitable saviour sibling they
must be a suitable tissue match be free from the disease affecting their sick
sibling.

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One such case is the case of Molly Nash, who was
born with Fanconi anaemia, a rare incurable genetic condition that rendered her
body unable to produce blood cells. Molly’s only chance of survival was a
transplant but since there were no suitable donors in her family, Molly’s
parents made the decision to undergo IVF treatment followed by PGD to insure
that the embryo was a suitable tissue match and was not carrying the gene for
Fanconi Anaemia. After four IVF attempts, Molly’s mother gave birth to a baby
boy named Adam. When Adam was born blood was harvested and saved from the
umbilical cord. Molly then underwent chemotherapy to destroy her bone marrow
and was transplanted the saved cord blood. Within three years of the transplant
Molly had shown haematopoietic and immune recovery.

Although Molly was successfully cured of her
disease there are many ethical issues surrounding the case. The Nash family
underwent IVF and PGD. A common argument is that PGD may save the saviour sibling, but it
disregards the other embryos and therefore potential children. Molly’s parents needed to have a perfect embryo designed free
from the Fanconi anaemia disease and a suitable tissue match for Molly, other
fertilized embryos who did not meet these requirements were discarded or used
for genetic or reproductive research. The question must then be asked is it
ethical to disregard so many potential human beings to find one to potentially
cure a single sick child? In response to this, it can be argued that it is
beneficial to the embryo to undergo PGD because it prevents them from being born
with the deadly genetic disease that is killing their older sibling. Ensuring
that the embryo is healthy before implantation prevents unnecessary suffering for
both the child and the family of the child, while in the case of saviour
siblings simultaneously saving a life.

Some ethicists
fear that the saviour sibling, only born to cure or treat a pre-existing sick
child, may suffer psychological problems later in life due to the possibility
of an upset in the family dynamic leaving the saviour sibling feeling like a
second class sibling, who is not as wanted and loved as the sibling they were
born to save. However, this falls more to the nature of the parenting and the way
the parent chooses to raise their children, and doesn’t relate directly to the
concept of the saviour siblings as parents may still treat two children
differently even if one is not a saviour sibling.

 In the opinion of some, producing
a saviour sibling is labelling the child as an instrument or object who’s main
purpose in life serves as a ’tissue bank’ in curing another child, However, in
many cases children are born with a specific purpose for example continuity of
family lineage, company for a pre-existing child etc.  In the case of saviour siblings IVF and PGD
are very expensive and the decision to go through rigorous rounds is not a
decision to be taken lightly. A family that go through, in most cases, the heartache
of unsuccessful attempts and the financial stress of conceiving a child from
are unlikely to do anything that would cause the child great harm. In the Nash case, only cord blood cells were
used in the transplant, which came from an already-separated umbilical cord a
non-invasive and painless procedure with no long term effects on the saviour
sibling. Even if it comes to the point where the Molly needed a bone marrow
transplant, there is a precedent in the medical community that these more
invasive procedures are ethically acceptable.

 

After the procedure, both children lead relatively
normal lives and the genetic material provided by the saviour sibling ultimately saved
the life of the pre-existing sick child. While minimal harm was done to the
saviour sibling, the pre-existing sick child was cured of their illness and the
family dynamic restored to one without the stress of caring for a deathly ill
member.

In conclusion, it
is an ethical reproductive procedure to use PGD to conceive a child that is a
perfect genetic match to a pre-existing sick child in order to use their
genetic material to cure said sick child. . Utilitarianism suggests that the
benefits of saving the life of a child outweigh the costs of donated cord blood
or tissue, thus making it ethical to conceive a child for the purpose of curing
another.