Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800 - 803)

WEDNESDAY 13 OCTOBER 2004

PROFESSOR ROBIN GILL, PROFESSOR JULIAN SAVULESCU AND PROFESSOR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

  Q800  Dr Harris: I just want to come back to around the welfare of a child issue because Alastair Campbell, in one of his answers, said that one could fashion a rule that if there was clear harm, then that really should be what governs us. I hope you remember that being an answer. I want to bring you back to the issue of saviour siblings where you are using cord blood and therefore you are not actually interfering with the autonomy of a child by having to take marrow on a needle which introduces new ethical issues. If there is clear evidence of harm by not taking a step that a doctor is happy to take, to deal with Robin Gill's point because you are involving an extra person, and allowing a child to die for want of an intervention for which there is no clear evidence of any harm under the circumstances I have described and that that child would not be born if it was not going to be used as a saviour sibling, so in fact there is a second harm in that that child would not even be born and there would be a dead child, so it would be a family minus two compared to plus two, I do not know how you can justify such firm opposition to such intervention.

  Professor Campbell: Can I deal with the last point first and it is in my paper as well. Unless you think there is a soul waiting to have a body, no child is harmed by the child not being born. There is simply no child. So, when you say that we are doing harm by not having the child conceived, we are not doing a harm to the child because the child does not exist.

  Q801  Dr Harris: I did not mean to say that. The point I was making, which you have heard me make before and others, notably John Harris, is that, if you argue that there might be some psychological effect on this child of having been born as a commodity in order to do this thing, which is to save the life of a family member or help to, and if you believe that that is a real harm and there is a serious danger of it, then you have to set that against, I argue, that child not existing at all as the alternative rather than existing in some paradise without the serious risk of the serious harm as you see it.

  Professor Campbell: We are a little in danger of going round and round in a circle, so let us just get back to the main thrust of your question which is, how do I justify stopping this good taking place, the saving of a life of a child, without any evidence that the sibling is going to be severely harmed? We have been careful, I am glad to say, never to use the term "slippery slope" this morning and I am not going to use it now, but what I am going to use instead is "in principle". I think I am opposed to this in principle, that is to say that—and I am in a minority here on the BMA Ethics Committee, so I accept that my view is widely contested—it is to do with the principle about creating children for some other purpose, however good that purpose is. You will immediately respond or Julian will respond that people do this all the time. The Royal Family do it in order to have an heir.

  Q802  Dr Harris: Exactly. To save marriages, to make an ex-girlfriend jealous or . . .

  Professor Campbell: I had not thought about that one! Then, we have to come back to the fact that such things are done does not itself mean that they are good, just that they happen and that we cannot interfere. We cannot start interfering in the liberty of couples in these situations but we cannot define a policy or oppose a policy and, from that point of view, we are not interfering in the bedroom as it were, we are interfering with the structure of legislation and I do not think that legislation and regulation should enhance the notion of creating sources of therapy for others through creating a child.

  Q803  Dr Harris: How many siblings would you allow to die to produce the support for this principle?

  Professor Campbell: This is thankfully a very, very rare circumstance and, very often, the children in this situation do not need a sibling as a donor. It is possible to help them in other ways without going through this particular procedure.

  Chairman: This debate will go on and on and on. Can I thank you for your contributions and the lucidity with which you put them forward. I am glad that there were disagreements and we are quite aware that there are disagreements in this field but I am so glad that they have been opened up and that we are aware of them. Thank you very much indeed and, when our report is out, you will see what we say therein and hopefully you might agree with at least parts of it.





 
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