Monday, 19 May 2008

Radio 4 "World at One": interview on saviour siblings

I have just listened to a (long) interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One lunch time current affairs programme. The interview is part of a programme that can, at the time of posting, be heard again at the Radio 4 website. In this interview, an anonymous doctor spoke about how a saviour sibling child would be able to provide a sufficiently close tissue match to save his already existing child from an unusual illness. Without this saviour sibling treatment, the older child would be "condemned to death by a thousand knives", to quote a phrase used more than once by the doctor.

After this interview, a much shorter time was allowed for Archbishop Vincent Nichols to respond. I think he would be forgiven for feeling that he had been set up, though I do not want to suggest that the World at One did that deliberately. Archbishop Nichols really did find himself in a position that only the most outstanding of media skills would have coped with successfully. John Smeaton has posted critically on Archbishop Nichols response.

However, as I listened to the anonymous doctor, I was struck by how many of his remarks reflected a "self-focussed" rather than an "other-focussed" attitude.

When asked by the interviewer, the doctor's reaction to the suggestion that a saviour sibling was "the only way that you can guarantee your son will live" was to say: "We have no other choice". [The doctor had, in fact, just discussed the other options and their risks.] The doctor made some comments about why they would want another child, as well as the saviour sibling aspect. Among the remarks, he talked about the second child "who we can love, who can give us hope, and will keep us going and will provide us with a child that will outlive us, every parent's wish". Later in the interview: "....we are hoping to have another child that is unaffected by the condition, because it is a genetic condition, and if we were to have a pregnancy again naturally then there is a high chance that we could be put in a similar situation and put a second child through all the pain and the repeated procedures .... We would love to have another child to give us hope, (who) we could love, and be with us as we get older ourselves."

The doctor also referred to situations where a family might already have siblings who could act as tissue donors for a sick brother or sister, suggesting that very few such brothers or sisters would decline to donate tissue. He completely ignored the question of consent on the part of the donating brother or sister ... And, related to this, the doctor indicated that the family would say as little as possible to the created saviour sibling about what had happened, with the intention of achieving as much "normalcy" in the situation as possible.

So, what I want to say is that the anonymous doctor presented a position that, objectively and philosophically speaking (and not intending any moral judgement on the doctor's subjective intentions which must be assumed to be the best), was "self-focussed" and not "other focussed", that did not show love in its objective/philosophical meaning (defined as wanting what is "right for the other", even where that requires sacrifice of what I want for myself), and that this seems to apply to both the present child and the future saviour sibling. And I emphasise again that, in saying this, I do not intend any moral judgement of the doctor or of his motives, or of the geniuness of his intention to love his children.

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