Three-year-old Catherine has a life-threatening condition. She desperately needs a bone marrow transplant from a sibling who matches her tissue type, a so-called 'saviour sibling'. But what are the ethics of creating a child, and then putting him or her at risk, to save another?
In the first of this returning series of Inside the Ethics Committee, Vivienne Parry is joined by a panel of experts to discuss Catherine’s case.
Catherine was born with Diamond Blackfan Anaemia, a rare blood disorder in which few, if any, red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow, causing anaemia.
She has to endure a gruelling regime of medical treatments to boost her red blood cells, but it’s by no means perfect. A quarter of patients die before they reach the age of thirty five.
A bone marrow transplant from a saviour sibling could save her.
- Should Catherine’s parents select an embryo to be a saviour sibling for Catherine?
- What are the ethical considerations of extracting bone marrow from a sibling donor, when s/he won’t personally benefit from the procedure?
- A bone marrow transplant could cure the anaemia part of Catherine’s condition, but it doesn’t cure the condition. And the transplant itself carries numerous risks, including death, bone marrow rejection and sterility. So how do parents and medical staff weigh up these risks against the potential benefits she may reap?
- What is in the best interests of the family as a whole?
- Deborah Bowman is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Ethics and Law at St George's Hospital University of London.
- Prof Peter Braude runs the largest pre-implantation genetic diagnosis centre in the UK at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Trust.
- Dr Simon Meller is a Paediatric Oncologist, formerly of the Royal Marsden, who has a special interest in medical ethics.