By Hilary White

STOCKHOLM, May 28, 2007 ( – Swedish officials have granted permission under a new law for three families to create “saviour sibling” embryos to be used to obtain stem cells for treatment of seriously ill children. The families will have embryos created in vitro, screened for desired genetic traits and implanted. If the children survive to birth, they will be used to produce a transplant of healthy stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta.

Sweden’s new law follows the broad use of genetic testing of embryos, called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Doctors now commonly offer the procedure for embryos created in vitro to select against certain genetic abnormalities, destroying those embryos with potential genetic illnesses. Now the addition of human leukocyte antigen testing (HLA), allows for embryos to be selected for specific desired genetic traits.

Goeran Wennergren, professor of pediatrics at Gothenburg University and one of the experts who evaluated the applications, told Agence France-Presse, “The PGD procedure has been used in Sweden for years but it is the second stage of the process, the HLA, that is now being allowed.”

Since the development of tissue transplants to treat diseases, the problem of immune system rejection has created a demand for genetically matched siblings created in the lab as living tissue donors.

Britain led the way, with permission being granted by the government agency in 2001 “to use PGD… to select an embryo so that stem cells from the resulting baby’s umbilical cord blood could be used in the treatment of an existing affected sibling.”

The permission by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare is the first since Swedish law was altered last year to allow the creation of “designer” babies for sibling tissue transplant.

British ethicist Josephine Quintavalle, who spearheaded a legal case to attempt to stop the same procedure in the UK, identified the creation of designer babies and saviour siblings as the next phase in the dehumanization of embryonic human life.

“One must question whether it can ever be right to create a child whose sole purpose is to ‘save’ another,” Quintavalle said, on behalf of the bioethics watchdog Comment on Reproductive Ethics.

“One should pause for a moment to consider how the new child will feel in 10 years time when he learns that he was wanted merely for his cells. One should also consider the precedence this may set in the future. What next? Creating children simply for their organs? After all, why stop at stem cells?”

A report by the British Human Genetics Commission said there was “concern” over the creation and use of a child to benefit another person and a risk that such siblings could be looked upon as mere organ banks for family use. The report did not object to the transplant procedures for bone marrow or umbilical cord blood, but said, “Once it is accepted in principle that children can be created to save the lives of siblings, perhaps more extensive – ie: the donation of a kidney – or repeated tissue donations may be seen as equally permissible.” The report suggested “safeguards” be put in place to build family relationships with such made-to-order children.


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