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10/01/2015

Is it Ethical for Parents to Create a Savior Sibling?

Savior siblings are children who are born to provide HLA compatible body parts, typically umbilical cord blood to be used for bone marrow transplantation, in order to save the life of their older sibling. They are created using IVF so that the embryos can be screened in order to find and implant one that is a match to the existing child. The first savior sibling, Adam Nash, was born in the US was born in 2000. Lisa and Jack Nash decided to create a savior sibling after their doctor suggested it might be the best option for a cure for their daughter Molly, who was born with a severe type of Fanconi anemia. Immediately after Adam was born, Molly received a bone marrow transplant using the umbilical cord blood from her brother. The notion of savior siblings gained more attention with Jodi Picoult’s book My Sister’s Keeper and the movie based on the book. In contrast to Adam Nash, the savior sibling in the book and movie is expected to continue giving bodily to her sister throughout her childhood, including organ transplantation, rather than one time umbilical cord donation.

Is it ethical for parents to create a savior sibling? Some argue that the parents’ intention plays a role in considering whether it is ethical to create a savior sibling. If the parents were not planning on having any more children and they are the having the savior sibling only for the sake of the older child, then there is the concern of using the savior sibling as a means to an end. If the parents were planning on having more children, then some claim that the savior sibling is wanted for her/his own sake and is not being created for just one purpose (i.e. to save the older child).

Is having a savior sibling using the child exclusively as a means to an end? We often use people as means to ends (e.g. the bus driver to get to work, the doctor to treat an illness, etc.), but we don’t use them exclusively as ends and that is a significant distinction (as least according to Immanuel Kant and other philosophers). People often have a second child in order to benefit the first child: they think it is important for their first child to have a sibling to serve as a playmate, draw the family closer together, etc. Even if the savior sibling is well loved, there are concerns that this child may always feel like a means, at least to some degree. Some believe that savior siblings will feel special and even heroic because of the role they play in their family, whereas others are concerned that they will be psychologically damaged because they will always feel like second fiddle.

What do you think? Is it ethical for parents to create a savior sibling?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate
of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in
Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information
on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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