Center for Bioethics Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

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BACKGROUND. The moral status of the human embryo is particularly controversial in the United States, where one debate has centered on embryos created in excess at in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. Little has been known about the disposal of these embryos.

METHODS.We mailed anonymous, self-administered questionnaires to directors of 341 American IVF clinics.

RESULTS. 217 of 341 clinics (64 percent) responded. Nearly all (97 percent) were willing to create and cryopreserve extra embryos. Fewer, but still a majority (59 percent), were explicitly willing to avoid creating extras. When embryos did remain in excess, clinics offered various options: continual cryopreservation for a charge (96 percent) or for no charge (4 percent), donation for reproductive use by other couples (76 percent), disposal prior to (60 percent) or following (54 percent) cryopreservation, and donation for research (60 percent) or embryologist training (19 percent). Qualifications varied widely among those personnel responsible for securing couples’ consent for disposal and for conducting disposal itself. Some clinics performed a religious or quasi-religious disposal ceremony. Some clinics required a couple’s participation in disposal; some allowed but did not require it; some others discouraged or disallowed it.

CONCLUSIONS. The disposal of human embryos created in excess at American IVF clinics varies in ways suggesting both moral sensitivity and ethical divergence.


Copyright 2004, The Association for Politics and the Life Sciences. Reprinted in Politics and the Life Sciences, Volume 22, Issue 2, August 2004, pages 4-8.



Date Posted: 08 March 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.