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Film Review: A Moral Dilemma - Saviour Sibling or Spare Part Baby?

11 June 2012
Appeared in BioNews 660

A Moral Dilemma: Saviour Sibling or Spare Part Baby?

Winner of the 'Year 12 and 13' category in the Nuffield Council on Bioethics 2012 Box Office Bioethics competition

Submitted by Holly Clamp, Harriet Copeland, Brenda Lau, Joshua Lee, Megan Lewis, Marco Narajos and Jonathan Sheldon at Ashby School's Med School Project

'A Moral Dilemma: Saviour Sibling or Spare Part Baby?'

Is creating a life to save another immoral? That is the question the winners of the year 12 to 13 category of Nuffield Council's 'Box Office Bioethics' film competition attempt to answer.

The film, entered as part of a competition inviting students in the UK to submit films about any topic in bioethics, explores the complex issue of 'saviour siblings' and provokes some interesting debate in its five minutes.

The film examines the case of Adam Nash, the first saviour sibling to be born in the USA, before dramatising a number of similar, presumably fictional, cases of saviour siblings.

The narrator sets the scene by saying Adam Nash was created with one purpose - to save his sister Molly's life. Although it is clear this is said for dramatic effect, it is emotive all the same. The film suggests Adam, at less than one-year-old, was already giving the greatest gift to Molly, who was affected by a rare genetic condition called Fanconi's anaemia. Not only did the doctors ensure Adam was free of the genetic condition himself, they selected an embryo that would be a tissue match for Molly, allowing her to be treated using Adam's umbilical cord blood cells.

One of the film's strengths is its unbiased and straightforward explanation of the science behind saviour siblings. This enabled the viewer to understand the science very quickly, allowing the film to move on to explore the ethical issues in the short time it had.

Portraying the ethical issues surrounding saviour siblings through a series of interviews with fictional families was very effective. It allowed the different people involved to voice their views, in their own words, to illustrate the dilemmas faced by families affected by this issue.

The interview with the fictional 'Lewis' family, who have a child following tissue typing to donate cord blood to their daughter, Sophie, seemed to me very honest. They portrayed how an affected family might act, despite some clumsy dialogue.

The parents said they felt uneasy about destroying embryos but their main concern was for Sophie's welfare. The parents discussed the idea that creating a life to save another is immoral, but ultimately decided they didn't want a baby just to save Sophie's life - they wanted another child anyway.

Helping strike a balance, the film then presented an alternative view by portraying a man who chose not to have another child as a saviour sibling mainly for religious reasons. He explained when he found out his son was diagnosed with Fanconi's anaemia, he spoke to a priest who advised him that discarding an embryo equates to killing a life.

The film strays into more emotive territory here, but this is understandable due to the strong beliefs some people have on the subject. It presents the view that human life is not a commodity and asks the viewer to consider the emotional trauma of knowing that you were only born to provide 'spare parts' for a brother or sister.

An interesting angle not explored is the cost of keeping a child alive that has a fatal condition and the chances of the parents having another child with the same condition if PGD is not carried out. I also don't think it was made clear that spare embryos are often discarded in the process of IVF, not just in tissue typing.

Although the film was sometimes sentimental, the makers remained objective. The film allowed viewers to draw their own conclusions as to what one thinks of the issue of saviour siblings by the simple strategy of presenting two opposing viewpoints on the matter. It does a very commendable job in the time frame.

'A Moral Dilemma: Saviour Sibling or Spare Part Baby?' was submitted by Marco Narajos, Brenda Lau, Megan Lewis, Jonathan Sheldon, Harriet Copeland, Holly Clamp and Joshua Lee.

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