Ethical Issues: Case 1

An article in an October issue of US News & World Report presented a controversial case for consideration.

Molly, now 6 years old, was born with no thumbs, malformed arms, and absence of hip sockets. She was diagnosed as having a recessive genetic condition called Fanconi anemia. Fanconi anemia occurs with equal frequency in males and females and is found in all ethnic groups. Many children born with this blood disease develop leukemia and never reach adulthood. Molly's diagnosis was the first indication that her parents were both carriers of a single copy of the faulty Fanconi anemia gene and that each pregnancy would carry a 25% chance that the baby would be affected like Molly.

Molly's parents learned that it was scientifically possible to screen the DNA of fertilized eggs prior to implantation in the mother's womb. This selected embryo, if free of the disease and a blood match for Molly, could save Molly's life. The idea was to use blood from the new baby's umbilical cord as a transplant to cure Molly's disease.

After many failed in vitro fertilization attempts, Molly's parents were successful in their efforts and Adam, Molly's brother, was born.

Being the parents of the first baby born from a genetically selected embryo in order to save the life of a sibling has sparked much discussion. To Molly and Adam's parents, however, there was never a question as to what course to take to give their children long, healthy lives.

Reproductive technology that made this scenario possible has raised the concern that babies may be "designed" for more trivial reasons as well. And it points to the likelihood that we will be faced with possibilities and controversies not dreamed of a few short decades ago.