Bioethics News

She aborted her child to save her brother’s life. A paradigmatic case of medical and ethical manipulation

pdfCan bone marrow really not be obtained from a pregnant woman? Because if it can, there would be no medical reason to have to resort to abortion.

Yang Li’s brother urgently needed a bone marrow transplant to treat his disease. Yang Li, who was 12 weeks pregnant, was an immunologically compatible match, but doctors warned her that donating bone marrow for the transplant could endanger her pregnancy, leaving her with a difficult choice:  continue her pregnancy and the transplant would not be performed, or abort to perform it. According to British tabloid The Daily Mail , Li decided to abort her baby to be able to donate her bone marrow to her brother. Doctors will perform the procedure when the 24 year old recovers from her abortion.

The case has opened a medical and ethical debate in the media and social networks. Some see Yang Li as a heroine, while others believe that she should not have had an abortion.

The question that we ask and that must be answered is: Can bone marrow really not be obtained from a pregnant woman? Because if it can, there would be no medical reason to have to resort to abortion.

Clinical approach

To answer this question, we at the Bioethics Observatory asked a specialist, Javier de la Rubia, head of the haematology department at La Fe University Hospital in Valencia (Spain) and professor of haematology at UCV to assess the case. His clinical response was as follows:

Haematopoietic stem cells for allogeneic transplant can be obtained in different ways:

  1. If bone marrow is used, the procedure is carried out in theatre under general anaesthesia by repeated puncture-aspiration in both posterior-superior iliac crests, and usually lasts about 90 minutes.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.