Stem cell research
The ethical problems of handling
surplus embryos in fertility clinics
||"...there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny
of the [hundreds of] thousands of 'frozen' embryos which are and remain the
subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human
persons." Pope John Paul II, 1996.
||"We need to look at these cryogenic tanks as frozen orphanages rather than
some kind of material that scientists can manipulate for whatever reason they
would like to." Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), 2001
||"Looking into Hannah's eyes, I weep for the roughly 188,000 frozen human
embryos like her placed in frozen-embryo orphanages who could be adopted rather
than terminated with my federal tax dollars." Marlene Strege, testifying at a
congressional hearing in 2001. She is the mother of Hannah who developed from an
According to Reuters News Agency:
"More than 3.5 million babies have been born worldwide using assisted
reproductive technology since July 25, 1978, when British doctors delivered the
world's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown. The technique involves surgically
removing eggs from a woman's ovaries and combining them with sperm in the lab.
Doctors then pick the best embryos -- typically one or two -- and implant them
in the uterus." 1
Only a few of the embryos are implanted. Most pro-lifers and some others view the unused, surplus embryos as human
persons, and are thus concerned about the latter's fate.
Essentially all will die as embryos:
||Some labs simply discard surplus embryos.
||Others are cryopreserved -- frozen in liquid nitrogen for
future use. The acts of freezing and thawing embryos results in the death of
about half of them.
||Most will be discarded months or years later when their parents decide
they have no more use for them.
||Some will die as a result of human error or equipment malfunction.
Ethical problems associated with disposal of surplus embryos are similar to
those associated with the creation of embryonic stem cell lines. However the
surplus embryos should be of much greater concern, because they number in the
hundreds of thousands whereas the number of embryos killed to extract their
stem cells number in the hundreds.
Curiously, the ethics of embryonic stem cell research has attracting a
massive amount of attention and moral outrage from governments and
conservative agencies, whereas the fate of the vastly greater numbers of surplus embryos in fertility
clinics is almost ignored by religious and social conservatives.
Topics covered in this section:
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
"Single embryo best for fertility treatment: study," Reuters,
2009-MAR-25, at: http://in.reuters.com/
Copyright © 2002 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-SEP-25
Latest update: 2009-MAR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson