Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of 199 eight-celled embryos has resulted in the birth of five saviour siblings, an IVF clinic in Chicago has announced. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr Yuri Verlinsky says that tissue from the babies will be used for treatment of siblings with acute lymphoid leukaemia, acute myeloid leukaemia or Diamond-Blackfam anaemia. Of the five babies, only one has actually saved a sibling. Three of the affected siblings are in remission — although they may need stem cell transplants later.
Dr Verlinsky dismissed misgivings about the ethics of creating babies to serve as medical treatments. “It offers the opportunity to save the life of an existing child with an otherwise untreatable disorder and allows couples to avoid confronting the difficulties of prenatal diagnosis for [antigen] typing in mid-pregnancy, with selective abortion of foetuses who are poorly matched with the affected child,” he wrote in the JAMA.
A recent survey by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University appears to show that Americans would support “saviour siblings”. “There is strong support for using these technologies when there is a health benefit, even when that benefit is for another person,” said Kathy Hudson, the director of the Center. However, an unrelated survey by Public Agenda Alert about US attitudes towards cloning points out that people are often ignorant of the details of medical research and the level of support for new developments depends heavily on the wording of pollsters’ questions.
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