Bishops of France reject manipulation of 'savior sibling'

The Bishops’ Conference of France has condemned the manipulation of France's first “savior sibling.”

Umut Talha, whose name in Turkish means “hope,” was born Jan. 26 at a hospital in Paris. The boy was “designed” through in vitro fertilization and genetic selection to cure one of his siblings of a serious genetic disease that causes anemia and requires repeated blood transfusions.

Using in vitro fertilization, scientists conceived a number of embryos and discarded those considered “unfit.” They then implanted the embryo that did not carry the disease so that the baby could be a compatible donor.

In the future, cells extracted from Umut’s umbilical cord could be transplanted to his older brother to cure him.

In their statement issued Feb. 9, the French bishops noted that the desire “to cure a sibling for humane reasons is honorable.” They expressed their understanding of the parents’ sadness and their hope in a medical solution, but stated, “to legalize the use of the most vulnerable human beings to cure another is not worthy of man. To conceive a child in order to use him—even if to cure another human being—is disrespectful of human dignity.”

“Utilitarianism is always a step backwards. It is dangerous for a society not to respect the primordial interests of the child as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of Children,” the bishops said.

They called for “acceptable research be carried out so appropriate therapeutic treatments will be found.”

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris rejected the use of “savior siblings” as “the exploitation of one human being for another,” as he spoke Feb. 8 before the French National Assembly. It is wrong “to use someone exclusively for another, as one child would become an instrument for seeking a cure for another child. Are we going to turn each other into instruments?” he asked.

The first “savior sibling” was born in the United States in 2000, followed by similar cases in Spain and Belgium. 

The Church opposes the manipulation of persons as tools for scientific research, and differentiates between the humane act of wishing to help one’s neighbor from the use of defenseless persons as instruments of research.

Catholic teaching also opposes in vitro fertilization for two main reasons: First, because it is a procedure contrary to the natural order of sexuality and attacks the dignity of the spouses and of marriage. The technique also involves the elimination of human embryos both inside and outside the womb, resulting in numerous abortions in each case.

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