Skip to content

'Savior Siblings,' Made to Order

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

British Approval of Designer Babies Stirs Ethical Anxiety

LONDON, MAY 8, 2005 (Zenit) - The final legal obstacle to designer babies in Britain was removed last week in a ruling by the House of Lords, the Telegraph newspaper reported April 29. The case involved Raj and Shahana Hashimi, who sought to use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to create a child whose umbilical cord stem cells could provide a cure for their son Zain. The boy has a blood disorder and must receive frequent transfusions.

The case has a complicated legal history and the latest decision follows a legal appeal in 2003, won by the Hashimi family. This decision was challenged by Josephine Quintavalle, the director of a pro-life group, Comment on Reproductive Ethics. But in a unanimous ruling the five law lords decreed that using PGD to create what is also referred to as a "savior sibling" is permissible.

A press release by Josephine Quintavalle dated April 28 commented that the decision by the House of Lords set a dangerous precedent. "The Law Lords have in effect stated that unless there are specific prohibitions to the contrary, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority can do whatever it pleases," she stated.

The problem with this, she continued, is that it is not just about creating babies in a laboratory for matching tissues. Worse, it leaves the door open to designer babies in general. "Whatever the mother deems to be suitable in an embryo is what she can ask for, according to today's interpretation of the law," concluded Quintavalle.

The previous legal victory by the Hashimi family had in fact already opened the doors in Britain for designer babies. The Telegraph in a report last Nov. 25 announced that the country's National Health Service will now pay for couples to create babies that are needed to provide cells for their siblings.

The newspaper reported that in the preceding months at least three local health authorities in England had agreed to provide public funds for couples who wanted to create a donor sibling. According to the article, four attempts at in vitro fertilization, together with PGD, costs around 20,000 pounds ($37,800).

Then, on Nov. 29, the Times reported that a couple was the first to conceive the United Kingdom's first designer baby. Julie and Joe Fletcher's son is anemic and after IVF an embryo was selected whose umbilical cord will provide a source of stem cells.

They are the first couple to so conceive because the Hashimi family, though given the go-ahead, had so far been unsuccessful at achieving a pregnancy, the Times said. Other British couples have given birth to savior siblings, but after treatment in the United States, where the procedure is legal.

Moving the goal posts

A further relaxation of the rules governing savior siblings was reported March 7 by the Times. Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has authorized doctors to perform surgery on designer babies to extract bone marrow.

Previously it was only possible for blood and cells from the umbilical cord to be used. But the newspaper affirmed that the rules were relaxed last year, without any publicity. The change only came to light through documents released under freedom-of-information legislation.

Commenting to the Times on the rule change, Josephine Quintavalle said that the HFEA had "moved ethical goal posts" without consulting or even informing the public. She added: "Bone-marrow donation is invasive and can be painful and never more so than for a tiny newborn baby, who derives no benefit from the procedure and is unable to give consent. The concept that a baby should be created with this specific purpose in mind goes beyond the comprehension of compassionate and civilized citizens."

Screening for cancer

Fears over the use of PGD were confirmed in another ruling by the HFEA late last year. BBC reported Nov. 1 that the HFEA has approved screening for embryos in order to eliminate those that suffer from an inherited form of cancer.

Researchers from University College in London were given a license to screen for a form of genetic bowel cancer. A parent who carries the gene involved in this cancer, reportedly has a 50% chance of passing it on to his or her children. Those who possess this gene can develop rectal or colon cancer in teen-age years.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

The technique is already used in screening for other disorders such as cystic fibrosis, which can affect babies from the time of birth, BBC reported. However, this is thought to be the first time it has been used for a disease that does not affect the sufferer until early adulthood.

Commenting on the decision, Dr. Mohammed Tarannisi, director of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynecology Center in London, told BBC the latest decision should have been "put to a wider audience." On BBC Radio 4's Today program he said: "These are conditions that may or may not develop 20, 30, 40 years down the line. Is this the right thing to do? It is not up to the HFEA or three members of the HFEA or even a clinician like myself to make these kinds of decisions. This is an issue that needs to be debated properly."

The HFEA decision was criticized by other groups as well, noted the Guardian newspaper on Nov. 2. "Whether or not genetic selection of embryos should take place, or in which cases, is extremely difficult to decide about," said Sue Mayer, director of the organization GeneWatch UK. "The HFEA have taken it upon themselves to make these decisions without reference to anyone but themselves."

Further criticism came from Dr. Callum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics. According to a report in the Scotsman newspaper the same day, MacKellar warned that the move could "lead society on to a slippery slope towards eugenics."

Psychological risks

A recent article by Agneto Sutton, lecturer in the Department of Theology at University College, Chichester, England, commented on the ethics involved in savior siblings. Published in last year's No. 6 edition of the Italian bioethics magazine Medicina e Morale, the article observed that while the aim of saving a sick child is praiseworthy in itself, "it cannot justify any means to achieve it."

Sutton argued that the HFEA has not provided sufficient evidence that the process of PGD itself will not have ill effects for the children born following such tests. Moreover, she asked how a savior sibling will react on learning that it was born for the sake of helping an older child. "Is this compatible with the human dignity of the child?" she asked. This situation could lead to psychological suffering for the savior sibling.

On the part of the parents the decision in favor of a savior sibling also reveals problems, Sutton added. The child is used as something instrumental and its welcome is far from being unconditional. Even the label "savior" is a misnomer, she argued. When we speak of a savior we refer to someone who has made an active intervention, willed by the person who acts. In the case of babies who are selected as a source of cells, the "savior" is passive and is treated as a product.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in No. 2378, in dealing with the theme of IVF in general, warns that "A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift." The text adds: "A child may not be considered a piece of property." A warning that remains valid as genetic techniques extend their reach.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Babies, PGD, Stem, Cell, Children, Vitr

Act of Contrition PDF

Free PDFs: Hail Mary, Our Father, How to Pray the Rosary & more

PDF educational resources for Students, Parents, and Teachers and it’s 100% FREE. How to Pray the Rosary, Hail Mary, Our Father, Saints, Prayers, Coloring Books, Novenas, Espanol and more. All FREE to download and faithful to the Magisterium. Download Now >

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,717

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Face Mask with Cross BOGO 50% OFF

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Face Mask with Cross BOGO 50% OFF

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

 St. Benedict Home Blessing Door Hanger  BOGO 50% OFF

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Free Online Catholic Classes for Anyone, Anywhere - Click Here

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.