August. Jan. 15, 2001 (Washington) — Frozen early-stage embryos, whether seen as a vital research tool in human life or potentially life-saving stem cell research, are at the heart of President Bush’s decision last week to fund limited stem cell research.
These ‘excess’ embryos are back in the news this week, with a Supreme Court ruling banning reproductive use for couples
This case involves a now divorced couple who underwent IVF in May 1995. Eleven embryos were created, four of which were transferred into the woman’s uterus and the rest were frozen.
IVF usually produces embryos that do not implant in the mother’s uterus. Unimplanted embryos are usually frozen for future use. There are an estimated 100,000 frozen in vitro embryos in the United States, many of which will never be implanted.
After the couple divorced, the father raised a moral objection against the mother’s willingness to discard the excess embryos.
The father wants to donate the seven “leftover” embryos to an infertile couple, but the woman is against it. The court unanimously agreed, “[The father] is deprived of the opportunity to use or donate the embryo, without loss of reproductive rights; if the [embryo] is successfully implanted, the [mother] will be forced to become the biological parent.”
But the court also ruled that the father could pay to continue freezing the embryos.
The court noted that it was in relatively untested legal waters. It said: “Guidelines for decision-making are scarce. Advances in medical technology far outpace the development of legal principles to resolve the inevitable disputes arising from the new reproductive opportunities now available.”
This ruling has caused some controversy. “We find this ruling very problematic because every frozen embryo is a human life. Every single one of these embryos should be Birthdays. They’re people, not property.”
But American Society of Reproductive Medicine spokesman Sean Elliott said Tipton told WebMD that some state Supreme Courts, starting with Tennessee, have issued similar rulings. He said, “You start getting a flood of state cases basically saying that embryos are not people and embryos are not property. The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that, and other courts have upheld it.”
The court noted that the couple did not explicitly agree on what to do with the embryos in the divorce case.
According to Hansen, “This case also points to the complex issues involved in in vitro fertilization, where each couple begins the process. These issues should be understood before. Some decisions have to be made about the future of the ‘remaining’ embryos.”
However, Tipton said, ” We don’t feel this ruling needs to change anything we’ve been telling our members to do, which is to sit down with the couple before starting CPB and discuss very clearly what they want these to happen in the event of the death of one or both parents or Embryos in the event of a breakdown of a partnership or marriage. This is already common.”
University of Wisconsin Medical Ethics and Law professor Alta Charo told WebMD the court was divided on whether the contracts were binding.
Charo said, “This decision continues a trend we’ve seen in other state courts … ruling that there is no constitution duty or right to use extra-uterine embryos for reproduction.”
The decision, Charo explained, could undermine arguments against cloning human embryos for research purposes . Some argue that once a human embryo is created, it should develop into a baby under the “common law”.
With last week’s decision to only fund federal research using stem cells already grown from embryos, President Bush argues that taxpayers should not fund the need to further disrupt “potential” The study of human life. id, “Like a snowflake, each of these embryos is unique and has unique genetic potential for humans.”
Tipton tells WebMD, “For a lot of people, freezing embryos is suddenly more fun now than it was six months ago.”