Why Saviour Siblings are Unethical

by Alex Lemieux

I first met the concept of saviour siblings a few years ago when I watched the film ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ and I immediately began a debate with myself as to whether or not they could be justified. At first I thought of course they were just due to the fact they saved children’s lives, at little expense to their sibling, but on deeper consolidation I began to think about the effect it would have on the saviour sibling. The cons outweighed the pros and therefore I began to see how unethical the idea really is.

To begin, the saviour sibling will feel as if the only reason they were brought into the world was to act as a spare body for their sibling rather than because their parents wanted another child. This feeling of being used will taunt them for their whole life as they were born into the world as ‘purpose-only’ and won’t be valued for who they are but more for what they can give.  There’s a possibility that as they grow older they may feel unloved or unwanted, especially if their sibling passes away as they will then have no use. If they can no longer fulfil their purpose then what’s the point of them staying alive? Throughout their whole life they have been donating to their sibling and doing what they were made to do so when this is no longer possible it would seem like there is no means to their life.

It must also be taken into account the fact that they have been helping their sibling for the whole duration of their life which would mean that they were a donor from an age when they were unable to give consent and were likely to be oblivious to what was happening. Surely this is wrong as it is their body and only they should decide what happens to it, not their parents. Despite it being for a good cause, as it is saving their siblings life, a child should not have to have their own life risked in order to save another when they are unaware of the risks involved. For instance, if their sibling needs to have a kidney donated to them, this will impair their body as the loss of a kidney can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis which would affect them in the long-term. This would be an unfair procedure to put a child through when they’re unable to voice their opinion due to how largely it could affect them in the future. When they understand their role in their sibling’s life, they may not want to donate their body anymore due to the effect its having on them physically which would lead to tension in the parent-child relationship as their parents would be trying to force them to change their mind but it would be against their child’s human rights to do so.

With saviour siblings there is always a chance that the two siblings will not be a match despite the embryo being hand-picked and all others destroyed, creating another ethical problem, which would mean that the parents would have a ‘useless’ child  which cannot follow through with the reason it was brought into the world. This could lead to the parents treating the child differently as theoretically they were born as a last resort in order to help another of their children which would harm the child emotionally. In some cases parents won’t consider the possibility that the saviour sibling won’t be able to help but there will still be a need to nurture the child as they would with any other of their children as it would be wrong to treat them as if they ‘failed’ their parents the moment it was found they weren’t a match. If the child is a match, parents may get swept up in how beneficial the sibling will be for their fatally ill child that they forget how it will affect the sibling both emotionally and physically. When the child gains an opinion on their role and that opinion is against being used as a donor, the parents may see their child as selfish rather than seeing where their child is coming from. There is also the possibility that their fatally ill child has a very low quality of life and so it would be wrong, to keep their life progressing whilst harming the saviour sibling but the parents believe that they are doing the right thing as it would be hard to let their child go, even when they know it is the best decision.

Saviour siblings were made possible in 2000 and have saved many lives since then and so many families will be eternally grateful for the creation of them but when they are used time and time again with each procedure becoming bigger each time, you’d think that parents would know when to draw the line and say goodbye to their ill child. In some cases, saviour siblings are used as a last resort and so, the child with the fatal disease will already have a low quality of life which is likely to get lower as time passes. Surely it would be wrong to put another child in danger in fight a battle that they’re already losing? Of course, in some cases the saviour sibling transforms their sibling’s life and the quality of life increases drastically, showing how valuable they are but this is not always the case and therefore I stand by my opinion of how unethical saviour siblings really are.