This week's BioNews reports on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)'s announcement that it will in principle permit preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and tissue typing in IVF units in the United Kingdom. But whilst families keenly awaiting this opportunity were delighted, not everyone was happy to hear the news. There was, of course, the inevitable cry of 'designer babies' from many newspaper headline writers and statements expressing moral outrage from prolife activists.
But from amongst them emerged more considered commentators, voicing concern about this particular use of PGD technology. One such was Lord Winston who, in an interview for BBC2's Newsnight programme, said: 'It really troubles me that some of my colleagues are prepared to consider a child as a commodity'. Unfortunately, Lord Winston was not offered the opportunity to expand upon his thoughts and explain exactly what he meant by them. A commodity, after all, is something which can be bought and sold on an open market - a definition which doesn't seem to apply to a child born of PGD and tissue typing.
Perhaps Lord Winston was hinting at philosopher Immanuel Kant's view that we should not treat people as means, but as ends in themselves: in other words, a child should be conceived for the benefit of that child, rather than for the benefit of anybody else. But Kant is regularly misquoted on this matter and a crucial word is often forgotten. According to Kant, people should not be treated _merely_ as means, but as ends in themselves. This means that people can be treated as means in some respects, so long as they are treated as ends in themselves in other respects.
And so, even in a Kantian view of the world, PGD and tissue typing is permissible. Since there is no indication that a child born using this technique would be any less wanted and loved than any other - even if they do perform a useful service to a sibling - PGD and tissue typing cannot be condemned.
But what if the donation is unsuccessful? Would the parents turn against the donor child who wasn't able to provide life-saving cells? We don't know the answer to this. But the presumption that a failed donation would inevitably damage the parent-child relationship seems wrong. Most parents would surely be contented that they had tried all options open to them and that the failed donation was not anybody's fault - least of all the donor's.