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Frozen Embryos Create Moral Quandary for Doctors, Patients

November 19, 2018
Katie Visco

Since the American Society of Medicine removed its status as an experimental treatment in 2012, freezing eggs and embryos has become a viable option for women from all walks of life. Whether it’s young professionals whose careers take off during their peak fertility years or cancer patients who want to preserve their chances of raising a family after treatment, egg and embryo preservation is a growing corner of the medical industry.

However, as so often happens with technological advancement; all sorts of previously unconsidered moral and legal questions are beginning to come out of the woodwork. Consider for a moment a hypothetical scenario; a family facing infertility opts for in-vitro fertilization and winds up getting unexpectedly lucky with a dozen or more healthy embryos, any of which could grow into a healthy baby in the event of a successful procedure. In the short term, this is obviously a blessing, the answer to all the couple’s prayers. In the long term, however, what becomes of those embryos? Preserving them could quickly become an expensive matter, but would disposing of them be morally justifiable?

Therein lies the question.

A New Front in the Abortion Debate?

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice arguments alike have axes to grind.

sperm cell

Without wishing to pick a side in the ever-rancorous abortion debate, it goes without saying that those who believe life begins at conception would object to the destruction of any healthy embryo, frozen or otherwise. It’s not uncommon for parents of IVF children to develop an attachment to their embryos, being more involved in the process and seeing what was once a little single cell grow into a real-live human being has a way of making it all more real to people.

Though few things are more real to more people than cold hard cash, and freezing and storing eggs and embryos can quickly become a very expensive proposition. The initial payment just to put a healthy egg or embryo on ice can be exponentially more than for freezing sperm, and then there’s the matter of monthly payments in the hundreds of dollars to keep them there. The pro-life side would doubtless retort that you simply can’t put a price in dollars on a human life, full stop. But the economic realities of modern life may leave the less well-off with no choice but to part with the embryos they worked so hard for.

Who Gets the Family Embryos?

Custody battles over the unborn may soon be a common part of divorce proceedings.

scissors

When couples who have gone through IVF together choose to separate, there is, of course, the matter of legal ownership of any fiduciary responsibility for any embryos that were created during the process. Perhaps as this technology becomes more commonplace and such legal battles become more common we could even see the introduction of paying child support for unborn children. There’s already some precedent for high-profile legal battles over embryos. Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara fought her ex-fiance Nick Loeb over a pair of embryos the couple created while together.

New Horizons

Development brings opportunity.

mother and father with baby

Technological advancement has a way of creating pocket industries, some of which can grow like weeds and become obscenely profitable astonishing quickly. Ubiquitous personal computers gave us the dot-com boom and later social media, reliable propeller planes gave us commercial air travel, the atomic power created endless jobs in both the energy and defense industries. We can only guess how far egg and embryo preservation will go as an industry, but we can say for certain that we are witnessing the dawn of a whole new sector of the medical profession, and that will doubtless bring change and with it; opportunity.

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