New Zealand’s first “saviour sibling”

For the first time in New Zealand a family has been granted permission to carry a baby to term which has been grown with the specific intention of saving an older sick sibling.

Permission for such procedures must be granted by the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART).  None has been granted for this purpose previously.

The embryo was chosen for implantation after Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) with Human Leucocyte Antigen Tissue Typing (HLA) revealed a tissue match with the sibling who has sickle cell anaemia.

According to the Sunday Star Times, the mother is currently 13 weeks pregnant.  When the baby is born, stem cells from the umbilical cord will be transplanted into the sick child.  It is hoped the stem cells will be a cure.

Several embryos must be created in the laboratory (IVF) in order for PGD to take place.  On day 3 or 5 of embryo development one or two cells are removed from each embryo and screened.  Those that are not a tissue match are often discarded.  Some may be frozen.

New Guidelines for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis with Human Leucocyte Antigen Tissue Typing were published on 18th August 2014, which make “saviour siblings” more likely.  Guidelines are produced by the Advisory Committee (ACART) whose role is to advise the Ethics Committee (ECART) on all reproductive technology procedures and research.

Under the Guidelines, preimplantation diagnosis coupled with tissue typing can only be undertaken when the resulting child will be the brother or sister of the child to be treated.  It is not legal for fertility clinics to use the screening to select the sex of the child.

There are so many ethical and moral concerns around the procedure of IVF to begin with.  The procedure separates the act of procreation from the marital union.  To then add the creation of many human beings in order to find one that will “save” a sibling adds further to the immorality of the procedure.

So-called “saviour siblings” are only valued because they can do something for an already born child. But those embryos which are not a tissue match are given no value at all by the parents and fertility clinic staff.  They are the bottom of the heap.  These unique individuals are perceived to have no value because apparently they have nothing to offer.  They are then discarded as if they were skin cells, not nascent human life.  If they are lucky their lives are suspended as they frozen for an indeterminate time.

All human life is sacred, and therefore must be treated with dignity and respect.

The best way to do this is to refrain from “playing God” in the first place.  Creating embryos in a petri dish allows the fertility doctor to decide who shall live and who shall have the chance to live.  This is a power that no person should ever have.


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