Frozen Lives

by NathalieG on September 20, 2013 - 8:25pm

Medical clinics that do in vitro procedures are left with the growing problem of accumulating embryos says an article be Sharon Kirkey and Postmedia News in the Montreal Gazette.  Certain couples who decide to create an embryo stop paying the fees to keep the embryos frozen and cannot be contacted.  This leaves the clinic with many abandoned embryos.  This raises an ethical issue about whether or not these embryos can be disposed.

Is it morally acceptable for a medical clinic to dispose of abandoned embryos if the owners cannot be reached?

From a legal standpoint, it is important that laws be created around this, so it is clear what the clinics should and should not do.  As it is now, the laws are not clear and do not really say what is legal or not.  This should definitely be looked at before any embryos are disposed of.

Personally, I think it is morally acceptable to dispose of the remaining embryos.  It is impossible to keep all the abandoned embryos.  If there has been a real effort made by the clinic to reach the couple who has abandoned their embryos, it is acceptable to dispose of them.  There should, however, be a time after which the embryo is disposed of.  It is not acceptable to dispose of an embryo after only a month of it being considered abandoned.  The clinic must do what is best for the patients.  In the future, it would be unfair to new couple wanting to procreate to not be able to freeze their embryos for very long because the freezers are overflowing with old abandoned embryos.  It is in the best interest of more people to dispose of the embryos, so it is acceptable to dispose of some abandoned ones.

It is important not to overlook the issues that will come with disposing embryos.  It should be clearly outlined in the contracts before the embryos are formed that, if the couple abandons the embryo, it can be disposed of after a set amount of time.  It is true that if a couple comes back year later to get an embryo they thought they would not need, it is bad to not have it anymore, since it will stop the couple from having a child, but this is unforeseeable for the clinic, so they must act in the best interest of the most patients, not to the minority who abandon their leftover embryos.

Though it is important to know if we should or can dispose of abandoned embryos, how should we ethically dispose of the embryos?  After all, according to many religions disposing of an embryo could be considered as killing.

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