Sunday, July 18, 2004
Conceiving a child to save another.
An article in today's Arizona Daily Star discusses the practice of conceiving a child in order to produce a donor (bone marrow, cord blood . . . ), which the editors describe as "deeply controversial." In and of itself, it's hard to see where the moral objection, or the argument for regulation, comes in. The article identifies a few problems, only one of which focuses on the decision to conceive for the benefit of another:
- Dr. Michael Graham, director of pediatric bone-marrow transplantation at University Medical Center (in Phoenix): "The underlying principle of medical ethics is that no person can exist solely for somebody else's benefit. So I worried about creating a child specifically to create a donor." The key word in this Kantian objection is solely, which posits that the utilitarian reason for having another child is the only reason, rather than one of many. The fact that a child is born for reasons that benefit others (parents who want the additional companionship in older age, a sibling who would otherwise be an only-child) hardly seems like a reason not to conceive, as long as the child will be valued, loved, and protected in his or her own right.
- Of course, that last notion does give one pause, certainly when you hear about a family that plans to put the "donor baby" up for adoption after the donation has occurred (so far, a hypothetical concern only). Dr. Graham "was especially concerned about a North Carolina mother with a diseased child who took fertility drugs to try to have a 'donor baby,' even though she was divorced. She had twins, but neither turned out to be a match. 'So here are two more children in a split and strained family,' he said." True, but that North Carolina mom could have had babies for any reason, or no reason at all, with the same result. The question is how paternalistic do we want to be.
- In vitro fertilization raises other issues, at least for the Catholic church and others who object to the creation of multiple embryos, followed by genetic screening to identify the best match, and destruction of the unused embryos.
Interestingly, "some ethicists have argued it might be morally wrong not to have a donor or designer baby, if possible, when another child's life is at stake. 'In a situation that requires an intervention involving no sacrifice and no inconvenience by one child in order to save the life of another child, (this) is morally acceptable. It may even be morally required,' Dr. Merle Spriggs, head of the Ethics Unit at Royal Children's Hospital in Victoria, Australia, wrote in a British medical journal."