Jennifer Roback Morse on the MercatorNet blog reflects on the moral issues raised by the movie adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel “My Sister’s Keeper”, oft discussed among the assisted reproduction crowd as the paradigmatic case of “savior sibling” gone bad.
Yet Morse reduces what most regard as a fine novel (if not a sub-par film) to a very simplistic question: to what extent are we entitled to use others? To me this seems to be an absurd way to shape such a debate about the use of ART to create children who may be able to save the lives of their relatives, particularly their siblings, given the fact that we, whether it is spoken or unspoken, “use” others with whom we are in relation all the time.
In fact, I would argue that it is the nature of relationships that we “use” each other each and every day. We don’t think of it as “use” in the typical sense of taking an using one’s organs or bone marrow or stem cells to cure oneself, but we do in fact get (and hopefully give back in return) a tremendous amount from those with whom we are in relation all the time.
This is why I think Morse’s analysis of the relationship between the “savior sibling” and her sister, and in fact, the entire family dynamic is completely off–and does quite a disservice to the use of ART for creating children who may be able to help their unwell older siblings. It entirely ignores the ways in which parents “use” children often to fulfill their own unfulfilled hopes, dreams and desires (rightly or wrongly). The background condition that parents clearly do use children to fulfill these desires sheds light on the fact that children may also be used in other ways to fulfill others’ expectations as well. This use, can hardly be construed as morally wrong, but simply the way in which we relate to each other in society.
Of course, when those expectations result in abuse or harm to a child, that when it does become morally reprehensible–but in the case of a savior sibling whose cord blood or some other bodily part is given to save the life of a sibling whom they love–this can hardly be construed as harm.
Just because we do use each other in countless ways in relationships does not of course make it right, but absent harm coming to savior siblings, it would seem to me that the good far outweighs the fear that there is no “reliable barrier against moral excesses and medical abuses” of these children.
Personally, I think that the great lengths that parents who want to have savior siblings go through suggest a tremendous love for BOTH their children and that this is a fear completely unwarranted and that they will not “use” their children or each other any more than any other parents, beyond the obvious instance for which that child was created.
Summer Johnson, PhD