Disposal of Frozen Embryo

Disposal of Frozen Embryo

Infertility issues among women expose them to societal and health vulnerability. Pressure from a relationship and family entitles a woman to look for alternative means to counter the inability to bear children. However, this is not a feminine problem but an issue that affects males to. The ideology of facing myths and reality of not having children has forced families to pursue other medically tested methods of bearing children. The major method is the creation of embryos outside the woman’s body and later implanting it into an able womb for nine months. This process in certain cases leads to the production of many eggs and sperms, which are fertilized together to increase the chances of embryo formation. However, depending on the number of children planned for by a couple, numerous embryos are left over at fertility clinics leaving the couple with tough decisions on how to dispose the embryos.

Embryos developed in vitro can be viable for decades if proper procedural practices are considered while storing them. The survival of these embryos however is not guaranteed during the thawing process. There are different ways in which couples would want to part with their frozen embryos. These decisions are bound by their reflection of the embryo as part of their lives and the moral aspect of doing away with a living form of a human being. According to Jonsen et al, 1998, the disposal of frozen embryos in fertility clinics is the responsibility of those storing the embryos, only if the wishes of the donor’s are respected. Fees paid to the storage facilities by couple on their stored embryos in increasing with the demand of storage space for more embryos being created by couples. There are certain options that couples explore to dispose ethically the embryos that are of no use to the expansion of their families. [1]

Donation to Infertile Couples

Couples with the inability to bear children identify with each other. The psychological stress of the matter makes these couple vulnerable to each other. The process of donation of embryos is compared to the process of adopting children. Depending on the State, in which a couple determines to donate their embryo (s), there are legal and medical procedures that are conducted upon the embryo and to the recipient family. However, this idea is usually traumatizing to the owners of the embryos who cannot deal with the existence of their unknown child. It is psychologically disturbing to have children elsewhere, but at the same time, it is important to assist in situations easily identifiable. Assertions from several embryo donors highlighted their dissatisfaction in the process of donation, especially with the knowledge of the recipient family. The donors only stipulate the education and religion aspects that they would wish the recipient parents to have. Clinics in which their embryos are stored conduct the donation process.[2]

Utilization in Medical Research

Scientific advancements are expanding the medical field and research to provide alternative solutions to solve human distraught abilities and conditions. These include bearing children, organ transplants and blood transfusion among others. The ideology of having frozen embryos is an advancement of fertilizing sperms and eggs in vitro. The ability of medical research in helping infertile couples has enabled many families bring life into the world. Since many embryos are produced during this process, many families find it as a good gesture to donate them for future research studies. However, this idea of disposing used embryos contravenes with the pro-life assertion of donor couples. This refers to the embryo as an object and not as an entity with the right to live or die respectfully. It takes a couple more than gratefulness to make the judgment call of donating their stored and frozen embryos for future scientific and medical experiments. Among the medical researches, being sort to be done is on the stem cell research. Despite the fact that frozen embryos are still at crossroads with ethical policies, science and religion, further advancements in science are still sort. [3] The human embryonic stem cells have the ability to be re-reengineered to other vital homogeneous human cells in vitro culture. [4]The production of new cells has been proved effective in treating conditions of spinal cords injuries, Alzheimer’s, TRALI, and Parkinson among others. However, this ideology was opposed by certain states previously led to the banning of the research. This was because of the implications the reengineering process had to the patient. Change of administrations has seen the lift of the ban, giving hope to families wanting to dispose off their embryos to donate them to the advancement of scientific research studies.

Philosophers’ Views

Philosophers and medical ethicists have different positions regarding the disposal of unused embryos. Treatment of infertility according to medical professionals depends on a couple’s decision to cope with the medical and ethical requirements of embryo use and disposal. Termination of the treatment follows success in forming a complete family unit, and therefore, there is more or less concern to the used embryos, especially if the couple continues to pay for their embryo storage. According to philosophers Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, embryo disposal ought to consider moral dualism.[5] Moral dualism can be analyzed from two views that advocate for the disposal of frozen embryos; the developmental and attribution views. This is the assertion of the claim that human beings even in their embryonic from are animals. The claim further denies that animals have dignity and the right to live since life in embryo form is prone to live or die even before full forming into a person.

Robert and Christopher review the developmental view of moral dualism by examining the proposition of comparing the right to allowing embryos to live to the human right to vote. Voting is prohibited for children until they reach the age of 18 years, therefore, embryos of no use do not have the right to live. [6]However, this proposition’s weakness is that rights do vary depending on the age, capacity and place where they are applicable. According to Robert and Christopher, it is regardful to uphold moral status while simultaneously upholding a person’s rights.

Following their attribution view, Robert and Christopher assert that human beings become what they are when others contribute to their personhood as examined by Ronald Green and Carson Strong also examined this view. The former reasoned out by using generalized and radical examination of biological reality, therefore it is important for people to review biological reasons as to why embryos are formed in the first place, and use moral values to think about the reasons. Green’s view considering morality is that, it is not proven that embryos have or do not have moral worth, but it is how we perceive the facts that the entity has or does not have moral status. He also disregards the inviolability of embryos but puts more emphasis on the pursuit of reproductive problems, advancement of medical studies and innovations and scientific progress. According to Robert and Christopher, the analysis of these attribution arguments develops a human paradigm of a model that recognizes the identification of human rights. However, in the case of embryos it is justified to deny them moral status and dispose them for biological and scientific advancements.

According to the assessments from the developmental and attribution views, Robert and Christopher reject the personification or personhood of embryos. An embryo according to them does not have a brain, is not grieved for after its death, and is usually wasted in the early stages pregnancy. As a result, disposal of embryos ought not for follow moral guidelines unless it develops a brain to make a fetus that develops into a human being. Arguments by Robert and Christopher advocate for the disposal of frozen embryos for scientific developments, since according to them, an embryo is not entitled to the right to moral standards of disposal.

From personal perspectives, the developmental and attribution views by the above philosophers contravene to the moral standards and clinical ethics that a human ought to practice. Human life begins at conception with the formation of a zygote, whether internally or through in vitro. This presents the embryos to a right to live and respect, in relation to humans too. The production of many embryos in IVF is an initial strategy of ensuring the success of fertility, which leaves other embryos unused. Couples responsible pay for the storage of these embryos prior their decision on how to dispose them. Despite exploring the options discussed above, some of the donors wish for a normal natural death of their embryos, probably by implanting them at a time when a human cycle cannot allow pregnancy to take place. New reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, uterine lavage and IVF have helped out solve parenthood issues, however, it is important to give the pre-embryo moral status and consider ethical implications when deciding on the methods of embryo disposal.


Clark, David K. and Rakestraw, Robert V. Readings in Christian Ethics: Issues and Applications New York: Baker Academic, 1995.

Jonsen, Albert R., Veatch, Robert M. and Walters, LeRoy. Source Book in Bioethics. Chicago: Georgetown University Press, 1998.

May, William E. “Review Essay of Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life: Part 2” Culture of Life Foundation (2009).

Pennings, G. “The validity of contracts to dispose of frozen embryos”, Journal of Medical Ethics 28 (2002): 295-300.

Roberts, Elizabeth F. F. God’s Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes. California: University of California Press, 2012.


[1] Albert R. Jonsen, Robert M. Veatch and LeRoy Walters, Source Book in Bioethics (Chicago: Georgetown University Press, 1998), 359.

[2] David K Clark and Robert V Rakestraw, Readings in Christian Ethics: Issues and Applications (New York: Baker Academic, 1995), 79.

[3] Elizabeth F. F. Roberts, God’s Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes (California: University of California Press, 2012), 186.

[4] G Pennings, “The validity of contracts to dispose of frozen embryos”, Journal of Medical Ethics 28 (2002): 295.

[5] William E. May, “Review Essay of Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life: Part 2” Culture of Life Foundation (2009).

[6] William E. May, “Review Essay of Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life: Part 2” Culture of Life Foundation (2009).

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