Savior Siblings and Their Ethical Implications

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Savior child is a child born to provide compatible body parts to save their older siblings. Savior siblings are created through selective in vitro fertilization so as the embryos can be screened to find and implant the one that matches with existing child (Trifiolis, 2014). The idea of the donor child was developed in 1994 when Lisa and Jack gave birth to Molly Nash who was then detected with Fanconi Anemia, a hereditary condition that results to failure in bone marrow creation. Lisa and jack conceived another child to save their older daughter by acting as a donor. The child born was named Adam (Fasbender, 2009). Immediately Adam was born, a group of specialists did stem cell transplantation and instilled the cells into his sister’s cardiovascular system. After about a month, Molly recovered and started producing bone marrow and later her immune system was back to normal. Adam was conceived as a savior child to save his sister’s life (Campo-Engelstein, 2015).

Ethical Implications

            The savior sibling is created through the in vitro fertilization (IVF) (Sheldon & Wilkinson, 2004). The screening is done using the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to ensure that the donor child has the same genetic characteristics with that of the receiver child who already exists and sick. In vitro fertilization is the fertilization that takes place outside the body (Campo-Engelstein, 2015). The woman involved takes fertility drugs to enhance production of numerous ova, which are then fertilized using sperm in a Petri plate and then collected by a medic (Knoppers et al., 2006). The nuclei are then developed for two to five days. The best embryos are then selected based on the development and cell numbers and then implanted in the woman uterus. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is the screening procedure of the IVF embryos done to inhibit hereditary genetic disorders. The process is usually done on the third day when the embryo has about six or more cells (Campo-Engelstein, 2015). One cell is obtained from the embryo, which is then screened to determine whether the fetus may develop genetic conditions and if the new baby would be a matching donor for the existing child. When the baby is born, the blood from the umbilical cord is used to treat the current sick child. In cases where that do not work, the bone marrow transplant is considered as well as tissue or organ this case, the doctors cannot make choices for the parents but they must endure that the parents are aware of all the consequences and the risks involved in the process (Campo-Engelstein, 2015). However, the doctors can step up and advocate for the savior child rights if they feel like the child is being mistreated.

            The production of the novel My Sister’s Keeper that was later produced as a movie promoted the ideology of people having savior siblings. The film and the book were based on a family that developed an idea of creating a savior child for their live sibling (Sheldon & Wilkinson, 2004). The novel is narrated from the mother’s eyes that see the pain that her daughter Kate has endured (Sheldon & Wilkinson, 2004). Ann, the savior child, undergoes several procedures including painful bone marrow extraction to save her sister. Anna appoints a lawyer to present her as she sues her mother. The judge appoints Anna a guardian who decides what is best for the savior child.

            The idea of creating a donor child creates ethical implications and arguments that the savior child may be treated as a commodity rather than a person. Some also argue that the ability to practice and create the savior child may eventually result in the creation of the designer babies. In addition, the welfare of the child creates an argument since one may be concerned with the physical, emotional and physiological health of the savior child (Trifiolis, 2014). Most people are against the procedure since they feel it is wrong to conceive a child conditionally — another view that creation of the savior child is not same as conceiving a child and that the child is created as an instrument or a commodity to heal their sibling. However, in another perspective, parents conceive children for different reasons and expectation ranging from the continuity of the family name, providing playmates to their other existing child or for their psychological benefits. 

            Even though some view creation of the savior child as unethical, others view it as an ethical practice provided that the donation of tissue is notable when performing on the existing child, if the savior child is valued for him or herself, and as long as the parents have equal love for the donor child (Campo-Engelstein, 2015). The supporters argue that the practice is acceptable since the parents are trying to save their existing child and this shows that they are caring parents hence unlikely for them to mistreat the savior child.

            The welfare of the savior child may be affected directly or indirectly. That is, the savior child may undergo painful procedures while donating their organs hence hurting them physically. On the other hand, the savior sibling's mental and psychological health may be negatively affected when they learn and fully understand their primary role in the events (Knoppers et al., 2006). The donor child may also be affected psychologically when they find out that they are unable to save their siblings on some occasions. The wellbeing of the donor child is also affected in cases that they are expected to be lifelong donor subjects (Trifiolis, 2014). The donation poses health risks to the existing child. Some of the processes such as harvesting blood from the umbilical cord are widely accepted since they come since they do not cause any harm to the embryo. However, other procedures such as harvesting vital organs from the donor child are not accepted since they are associated with many risks.


            Due to the varying views on the idea of the savior child, the concept remains debatable. The notion of the donor child as a commodity is mostly ignored since people argue its better than non-existence (Fasbender, 2009). All the argument put forward against donor child ideas is fumbled the fact of life is better than not existing is brought forward. However, the debate of the creation of designer babies is regulated in the United States through the regulation of all the use of PGD. The only argument that bares advantages is that associated with the child’s welfare. The United States is more advanced in the medical, ethical implication and moral have allowed PDG. Other countries such as the U.K. and Australia closely monitor the IVF and PGD procedure.


Campo-Engelstein, L. (2015). Bioethics today. Bioethics Institute at Albany medical center.

Fasbender, W. (2009). The Savior Child: Having a Child to Save a Sibling. Is this Right? Retrieved from    

Knoppers, B. M., Bordet, S., & Isasi, R. M. (2006). Preimplantation genetic diagnosis: an        overview of socio-ethical and legal considerations. Annu. Rev. Genomics Hum.             Genet., 7, 201-221. Retrieved from    

Sheldon, S., & Wilkinson, S. (2004). Should selecting savior siblings be banned? Journal of     Medical Ethics, 30(6), 533-537.

Trifiolis, K. L. (2014). Savior Siblings: The Ethical Debate.

October 13, 2023


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