Friday, 17 October 2008
by Nurse JennaSuppose your only child is diagnosed at 4 months old with a fatal genetic disorder, one that will require life-long blood transfusions and has a current life expectancy of about 35 years old. The only possibility for a cure would be to find a suitable bone marrow donor, which despite lengthy efforts searching the 11 million world-wide donors, have been fruitless. This was the Mariscal family’s story until they went to extraordinary and controversial lengths to save their son, Andres, who suffered from Beta-Thalessemia Major.
The Mariscal’s decided to have a second child in order to save Andres life, so that they could finally have a compatible donor for him. They underwent in vitro fertilization with subsequent genetic analysis of the embryos to make sure the chosen embryo did not also carry the same illness as their sick son. Once the embryo was given a clean bill of health, they carried what would become Andres’ younger brother to term and collected the blood from his umbilical cord at birth, which has become a more and more popular practice.
The stem cells from the umbilical cord were then used for a transfusion for Andres, which has a 70-90% success rate and if all goes as anticipated, Andres will be completely normal in 5 years, as is his little brother who also leads a normal life after having given his big brother a new chance for his own life. It is a heart-warming story and a testimonial to what science can do to not only enrich, but to save lives.
So where is the harm? Where is the foul? If you ask me, there is none. But of course, the experts at the Catholic Church have decided to step in saying “You cannot kill one human being to save another,” which is what they believe happened in this situation. Unless this was taken out of context, I see no relation--where is one human being killed?
As you may recall from an earlier post, I am currently in Ecuador, reading about this in the local paper, where such embryo selection is prohibited and abortion is illegal. The popular sentiment here calls for conservative, though questionable decisions. It is a story being viewed through the lens of a country where taking birth control makes you “mala chica” or a bad girl, just to put in perspective the overwhelming national sentiment on these delicate topics.
The Mariscal's story is from Spain, one of the European countries where embryo selection is legal. In several progressive countries, such as Germany, the process is not just regulated, but acutally illegal. The surprise to many may be that despite George Bush’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, genetic analysis of embryos and selection for implantation is permitted in the United States. It is often used for diseases such as Beta Thalessemia, Sickle Cell Anemia, Cystic Fibrosis, or yes--even to choose the desired gender of the child. But let it be clear that embryo selection is not the same as manipulation of DNA and is not the same as cloning.
Do you think there are lines that have to be drawn with embryo selection? Would you have another child if it was the only way to save your other child's life?