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What should be done with the 500,000 unclaimed embryos currently in storage?

Ethical Principals are the fundamental basics found in all decisions concerning healthcare ethics. These principals are:

1. Autonomy
2. Beneficence
3. Nonmaleficence
4. Justice

Use one or more of these principles in evaluating the issues raised by the following facts:

Data indicates there are over 500,000 frozen embryos in storage today, where the storage facility no longer can find the donor parents. These embryos were created over the past decade via in vitro fertilization (IVF) performed by fertility clinics/doctors. What should be done with these frozen embryos?

IVF is the process through which a woman's eggs are harvested (Usually after being given a fertility drug that increases the number of eggs that can be harvested at one time) and placed in a petri dish. They are fertilized with sperm and the cells divide. Then they are frozen. Some of the resulting embryos (Described as smaller than a grain of sand) are implanted in the uterus. The unused embryos are stored (Cryogenically frozen) in case the implantation does not work. Creating a greater number of embryos than initially needed for the first attempt spares a repeat of the expensive harvesting surgery and spares the woman another round of fertility drugs.

Embryonic stem cells have been shown to have the capacity to replicate into any type of cell (Blood, organ, bone, etc.) Thus, there is some promise that embryonic stem cell research could result in cures of certain diseases and cancers. No cures are imminent, and many more studies are needed. It may be years before we realize the benefits of the research. The process of obtaining embryonic stem cells for studies results in the destruction of the embryo.

What should be done with the 500,000 unclaimed embryos? Please use one or more of the above ethical principals. What are the ethical considerations?

Solution Preview

Here is a reference on the current state of stem cell research including a discussion of embryonic vs. non-embryonic stem cells:

Human embryonic stem cells have the potential to differentiate into virtually any specialized cell type, and for this reason they could potentially allow us to gain a greater understanding of defects in this process which lead to a variety of diseases including cancer and degenerative conditions. Unfortunately, conducting such research results ...

Solution Summary

The following posting discusses the ethical issues associated with unclaimed embryos in research.