France’s first “saviour sibling” sparks debate about ethics of biotechnology


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France’s first “saviour sibling” – a healthy boy whose discarded umbilical cord will help his sibling’s genetic blood disease to be healed – has raised complex ethical concerns over biotechnology to the forefront in the country. The baby, named Umut Talha, was born in a hospital in the Parisian suburb of Clamart.

The boy’s parents, of Turkish origin, approached the Clamart hospital just over a year ago, their two young children afflicted with an inherited blood disorder, Beta thalassemia, which requires monthly blood transfusions. The parents knew the hospital was one of only three in France that was developing a treatment for their child’s illness.

An embryo was screened and genetically selected from a group of 12 embryos. It was picked to ensure it did not carry the Beta thalassemia gene, but also based on its compatibility with the sick siblings. Aside from selecting an offspring that would be spared from disorder, the parents hoped the baby would become a donor of the right kind of treatment cells.

Umut was born healthy, and his cells were used to treat his older sister, now two years old. Doctors are confident that Umut’s sister will be cured with these cells from his discarded umbilical cord.

The issue of saviour babies has raised complex bioethical debates, and renewed fears of a move towards “designer babies”, or babies whose traits – such as intelligence, height, hair and eye colour – have been predetermined. The laws that regulate cases such as this are now being revised. Observers say the existing biotechnology legislation in France may be tightened and restrict certain fields of research, including stem cells. Existing bioethics law in France allows for cases like this one. The government has set aside 800,000 euros per year for Clamart to practise and develop the procedure. ~ France24, Feb 8
 



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