Twins born following IVF treatment to select embryos which would be a tissue match for their elder brother are thought to be the first incidence in the UK of multiple 'saviour siblings'. Out of just twelve licences granted by the UK's regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), to permit families to use tissue typing to create a so-called saviour sibling, only this one has resulted in twins.
Laurence Maguire, 42 and Wendy Plant, 37, decided to try and have a saviour sibling when a worldwide search for a bone marrow donor for their eldest son, Connor, failed. Connor suffers from aplastic anaemia, a condition in which the immune system destroys parts of the bone marrow causing life threatening anaemia. The condition can be treated by with immunosuppressant drugs and regular blood transfusions, but the only prospect of a cure is to have a bone marrow transplant from a tissue-matched donor. Mr Maguire and Ms Plant created five embryos following IVF, two of which were found to be a tissue match for Connor and were implanted into Ms Plant.
The controversy over so-called 'saviour siblings' centres around the idea that couples might wish to have a child as a 'means to an end'. Some argue that this raises concerns over the welfare of the child, who may perhaps not feel as valued as they would if they were conceived under normal circumstances and may even be put under unreasonable pressure to 'save the life' of their sick sibling. However, speaking to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Maguire defended the family's decision to have a sibling to help their eldest son: 'Once you see your children, any notion that they are spare parts is gone. We wouldn't change anything, they are our children and we love them all. I never ever think that we didn't have the twins for the right reason.'
The twin's umbilical cord blood will be stored at St Helier Hospital in Carshalton in case their brother's condition deteriorates in the future.