The Ayala family's story of conceiving a baby as a bone marrow donor lassoed national attention, but a local doctor says their story probably isn't unique.
Abe and Mary Ayala, of Walnut, Calif., are the first couple to publicly admit they conceived a child after a fruitless search for a compatible donor for an older daughter with leukemia.But Dr. Patrick Beatty, new director of the University Hospital's bone marrow transplant program, said he's aware of other families who have made the same choice, but they've kept quiet about it. Beatty hasn't met the Ayalas, but he was part of a nationwide search to find a donor.
"I've had patients tell me that they conceived a child in hopes it will be a bone marrow donor," Beatty said. "I've never counseled anyone to do that. Patients usually figure it out on their own."
But parents who plan to conceive in order to create a donor should be aware it's a genetic gamble. The odds are one in four that a sibling will be a match. "I don't really think it's my place to say `Go have a kid to save this kid's life.' That would be too much pressure."
Beatty, who formerly worked at a bone marrow center in Seattle, said he cared for a family with a story almost identical to the Ayalas. They had completed their family but then conceived a child who became a donor for a sibling. "They were rather bemused by all the publicity" the California couple received, Beatty said.
But so far, the issue hasn't come up in Utah. "In Utah, we're lucky. We've got lots of kids."
Beatty thinks the practice is acceptable as long as the family wants a new baby. "Technically, it's not really an issue. A baby's bone marrow is quite lush, much denser than an adult's would be."
Ethical problems would only arise if a family conceived, Beatty said, and then had an abortion if the baby wasn't of the right tissue type.