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Support for 'saviour siblings'

Dr Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

07 July 2003

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[BioNews, London] Screening embryos to determine whether or not they would be a potential matched cord blood donor for an ill sibling is morally acceptable, even in situations where the only benefit is to the existing child, according to the outgoing chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). Speaking to delegates at ESHRE's annual conference in Madrid, Professor Hans Evers said that tissue typing embryos for this purpose should be allowed, as long as the child is loved and cared for by the parents.

Evers' comments follow the recent birth of James Whitaker, who was conceived using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with embryo tissue typing at a private US fertility clinic, after his parents were refused the procedure in the UK. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment in Britain, turned down the Whitakers' request to have a tissue-matched sibling for their son Charles, who is affected by Diamond-Blackfan anaemia, because subsequent children were not at risk of being born with the same condition. However, the HFEA did allow the Hashmi family to use the same technique to conceive a potential cord blood donor for their son Zain, who has beta-thalassaemia. The authority permitted embryo screening in this case because the potential donor sibling is itself at risk of the genetic condition, which could be avoided using embryo screening techniques. But Evers feels that using embryo tissue typing to select a 'saviour sibling' was morally acceptable if the parents intend to love and care for the new child to the same extent as the existing child.

Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, said that she did not see Evers' comments as implicit criticism, but that 'it is a helpful contribution to a debate that's going on in many countries at the moment. I think this issue is for civil society to decide, not just scientists and clinicians'. Doctors attending the annual conference of the British Medical Association last week also agreed that selecting cord blood donor siblings is an acceptable practice, arguing that it was their duty to use new methods to help patients, provided each case was taken on an individual basis.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 07 July 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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