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A relational approach to saviour siblings?
  1. Michael J Selgelid

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This issue of Journal of Medical Ethics features an “Author meets critics” discussion of Michelle Taylor-Sands' recent book Saviour Siblings.1 In Saviour Siblings, Taylor-Sands departs from standard approaches to the ethics of selective reproduction that (she argues) usually focus on ‘the individual interests of the child to be born’.2 Instead she proposes ‘a new relational model for selective reproduction based on a broad conception of the welfare of the child that includes both individual and family interests’.2 Rather than thinking that the individual interests of the new child are ultimately what (or all that) matter in ethical decision making about selective reproduction, and rather than pitting the individual interests of a potential new child against the interests of other family members, on her approach, ‘the welfare of the child to be born is inextricably linked with the welfare of his/her family’.2 By benefiting a sick sibling and parents—and thus the family as a whole—a savior sibling will often thus herself benefit according to this broad conception of welfare. Though a new child's individual interests still matter and may be at odds with family interests, according to Taylor-Sands, ‘familial duty’ may provide justification for compromising some individual interests … for the welfare of the family as a whole'. This does not mean that family interests always outweigh the interests of a new child; and, according to Taylor-Sands, there should be (policy) limits that protect children ‘from exploitation, abuse, or neglect’.2

As discussed in Stephen Wilkinson's critical commentary,3 part of the motivation behind Taylor-Sands' relational approach to saviour siblings is dissatisfaction with the idea that, according to analyses appealing to the Non-Identity Problem, selective reproduction is justified whenever the new child's life is worth living. Taylor-Sands argues that the …

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