Spare parts child or saviour sibling?

Sunday Star Times

Michelle Duff

A woman is pregnant with New Zealand’s first “made-to-order baby,” chosen for its genetic makeup to save its sibling’s life.

The baby was selected from other IVF embryos as a genetic match for its sick older sibling and will donate stem cells at birth.

Critics say the process is a slippery slope towards treating children as commodities.

The cells will be harvested from the baby’s umbilical cord blood and used as a transplant for the older child, which might save it from life-threatening sickle cell anaemia. The parents already have several children, and the sick child is the oldest.

The creation of Baby X comes as outgoing Health Minister Tony Ryall approves the expansion of genetic testing, which will open the door for doctors to select “saviour siblings” to help save existing children sick with certain diseases. . . [Full text]

Genetic screening to improve intelligence

Writing in The Conversation, ethicist Julian Savulescu discusses recently published findings that indicate that children with two copies of a common gene (Thr92Ala) and low thyroid hormone levels apparently increase the likelihood of low IQ by a factor of four.  Since the “risk of low intelligence” depends upon both the genetic configuration and hormonal level, he suggests that such children could be treated with supplemental thyroid hormones “to enhance their intelligence.”

The “low intelligence” to which he refers is the 4 % of the U.K. population estimated to have an IQ of between 70 and 85.

“If we could enhance their intelligence, say with thyroid hormone supplementation,” he writes, “we should.”

Savulescu’s focus on intelligence in this case should not become a distraction.  Supplementing hormones seems to present no special ethical problems, since the goal in that case would not be eugenic perfectionism or enhancement, but therapeutic correction of a deficiency.  However, Savulescu goes beyond this to propose that IVF embryos be screened, and that embryos found to have two copies of the Thr92Ala gene not be selected for implantation.  What is unstated is that the ‘defective’ embryos should be killed.  This would be an ethical/moral problem for anyone who holds that deliberately killing human embryos is wrong.

 

Embryos abandoned by parents present ethical, legal quandary

The Calgary Herald reports that fewer than 5% (20,000) of the roughly 400,000 frozen embryos at fertility clinics in the United States have been abandoned by their parents.  It suggests that over 135,000 frozen embryos are stored at clinics in Canada; a  5% rate would imply over 6,700 abandoned embryos.  That figure might be too low, since one clinic is reported to have 1,000 “unclaimed” embryos.  The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has decided that clinics can destroy embryos that have been abandoned for at least five years, the parents cannot be located, and there are no written instructions to indicate what should be done with them.  The guidance is legally and ethically contested. [Calgary Herald]

Some legal and ethical issues in assisted reproductive technology

Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 66 (1999) 55-61

BM Dickens, RJ Cook

Abstract:

The potential and actual applications of reproductive technologies have been reviewed by many governmental committees, and laws have been enacted in several countries to accommodate, limit and regulate their use. Regulatory systems have nevertheless left some legal and ethical issues unresolved, and have caused other issues to arise. Issues that regulatory systems leave unresolved, or that systems have created, include disposal of embryos that remain after patients’ treatments are concluded, and multiple implantation and pregnancy. This may result in risks to maternal, embryonic and neonatal life and health, and the contentious relief that may be achieved by selective reduction of multiple pregnancies. A further concern arises when clinics must or choose to publicize their success rates, and they compete for favorable statistics  by questionable patient selection criteria and treatment priorities. [Full Text]