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Confusion over spare IVF embryos in US

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

03 September 2004

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[BioNews, London] A new survey of US fertility clinics reveals wide variation in the fate of surplus embryos created during IVF treatment. The research shows that such embryos may be frozen indefinitely, given a religious funeral, donated to research or thrown away. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who co-authored the study, said he was flabbergasted at the diversity of practices that the research uncovered. He added that it 'highlights the importance of fully disclosing disposal options' when couples first consider enrolling for treatment at a particular clinic.

Arthur Caplan and Andrea Gurmankin sent questionnaires to 341 US clinics, 217 of which sent replies. The results, published online in the journal Politics and the Life Sciences, showed that 97 per cent of the clinics are willing to create and freeze extra embryos. Around 16 per cent of these refused to destroy them, citing religious reasons, state laws or fear of being sued. Such clinics either kept the embryos frozen indefinitely, or donated them to other couples undergoing treatment.

In the 175 clinics that do dispose of extra embryos, 78 per cent required permission from both members of the couple that created them, before they would do so. Some of these clinics handed the embryos over to the couple, whereas others incinerated them as biological waste, sometimes thawing them first. Four per cent of the clinics performed a funeral ceremony when disposing of the embryos, which included a prayer.

The study suggests that clinics should follow up couples having IVF, according to Caplan. 'No one knows whether any of these practices were emotionally helpful or disturbing or anything for the couples', he told Wired magazine. The results also reveal a diversity of opinion on the moral status of human embryos. 'The fact that these practices are so varied shows a lot more division even in groups that work with embryos than we might have guessed', said Caplan.



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Date Added: 03 September 2004   Date Updated: 13 September 2004
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