We've all heard of how some people are born to do certain things. How about some people being given birth just to do certain things? In what can be termed as a medical milestone for the nation, doctors in Ahmedabad have successfully conducted India's first 'saviour sibling' experiment.

One-year-old Kavya Solanki has become India's first 'saviour sibling', by donating her bone marrow to save her brother's life. Kavya was conceived by her parents through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) after going through several rounds of pre-genetic testing, so as to be a donor to her elder brother Abhijeet Solanki.

migrant worker delivers baby on roadside
representational image

Abhijeet - a Thalassemia major

Abhijeet was born in November 2013 and missed all the growth milestones of normal babies. Soon after the parents came to know of him being a Thalassemia major. Abhijeet required blood transfusions every 25 days and the gap between two transfusions reduced as he grew, so much so that by the age of six, he had undergone 80 transfusions.

The best option for Thalassemia major patient is a bone marrow transplant from HLA identical donor. But, no one in the family including Abhijeet's elder sister had an identical HLA (human leukocyte antigen). However, his father Sahdev Singh Solanki did not give up and his research led him to 'saviour sibling' concept.

bone marrow transplant needles
Bone marrow transplant needlesFlickr

Behind the medical process

The doctor Manish Banker from Nova IVF fertility in Ahmedabad, admits to having received such a request for the first time in his medical practice. He started pre-implantation genetic testing for the matching HLA. From the 18 embryos that were created from three cycles of IVF, only one embryo matched Abhijeet's HLA. Kavya Solanki was born. But the baby had to weigh 10 kg before the bone marrow could be drawn.

Why the controversy?

Reportedly, the transplant was done on March 17 and Abhijeet has not required any blood transfusion ever since and his hemoglobin count is well within the healthy range. If the medical process resulted in a happy ending, then why should anybody be upset?

Many, including child rights activists, are of the opinion that this is glorified child abuse. Wherein a child is conceived of only to be harvested for its body part. The debate over the medical procedure has led many to term the process as 'spare part sibling' rather than 'saviour sibling.' Apart from the fact that this practice can result in children being treated as 'commodities,' many have reservations that it can also encourage the practice of 'designer babies.'

The celluloid references on saviour sibling

Ethical considerations aside, many books and films, and episodes in medical dramas, exist on the concept of saviour sibling. Among the most popular happens to be the 2004 novel My Sister's Keeper. Written by Jodi Picoult, it was later adapted into a film, wherein a child was born as a saviour sibling to her sister Kate, who is suffering from leukemia. Even as opinions stand divided, real-life incidents of saviour siblings galore.

US born Adam Nash (August 29, 2000) is said to be the inspiration behind My Sister's Keeper. He was born through IVF after pre-implantation genetic diagnosis so he could donate cord blood to his sister Molly suffering from a genetic disorder.

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