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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Son

Living Spare Parts

A saviour sibling, also known by a cruder term: a “spare parts baby,” refers to a child conceived solely for the reason of providing organs or cell transplants to an elder sibling with a life-threatening disease. These life-threatening diseases, such as cancer or leukemia, are those that can be cured or alleviated through transplants. Often, spare parts babies are produced through in vitro fertilization (IVF) so that their zygotes are most genetically similar to the sibling for whom they will later serve as donors. Starting from birth, spare parts babies begin the physically and emotionally draining process of donating to their siblings. Blood can be drawn from even the umbilical cord and used for a stem cell transplant.

Controversy surrounds this topic. Those who believe that spare parts babies are unethical are particularly concerned with the psychological health and well-being of the saviour sibling if, or when, he or she realizes why they were conceived. For children who were solely born to save their elder sibling, questions of self-worth and the purpose of one’s life itself have the ability to be devastating to their psychological well-being.

The concept of being able to choose which eggs get fertilized in the stages of IVF also raises questions of its potential complications down the road. During IVF, doctors only fertilize eggs that pass a screening process to ensure that the healthiest and most genetically identical sibling is conceived. In a world where tremendous value is placed on being a “perfect” individual with intelligence, talent, health, and an attractive physical appearance, choosing which spare parts egg gets to be fertilized can evolve into choosing the features of one’s “dream baby.” Giving this power over to individuals who would want to conceive, in their opinion, the most genetically perfect children possible can be risky. If everyone wanted their babies to have certain genes that would ensure the best results, certain features are sure to be lost in the process over time. However, not only would socially undesirable traits be lost but so would important features that could potentially hold cures to illnesses or benefit humans in the future. The extinction of certain traits could mean the loss of beneficial features that we have yet to learn about. Wealthy individuals would have the money to pay for the IVF process to have the most ideal babies possible while technology, as it often does when fueled by commercial means, will expand until being able to genetically choose a child is a viable option for nearly everyone who has some money.

Currently, in the United Kingdom, saviour siblings conceived through modern reproductive techniques are lawful and in the United States, there is no government regulation on the process. As of right now, the conception of a spare parts baby is up to the parents of the child in question, who should sincerely take into account the complications that this could later cause. However, with the future of both spare parts babies and humankind in mind, the advantages and disadvantages of saviour siblings should be seriously considered before it has the ability to run uncurbed.

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