Late last year I wrote about the disposition of excess frozen embryos, a problem which has arisen as a result of the widespread use of IVF. Now Newt Gingrich has drawn attention to this question in the Republican primary election in Florida. (Fair warning: I am quoted in the particular coverage I linked to.)
While I do think the question of what to do with the frozen embryos that are piling up in clinics around the world is important, I’m not remotely persuaded that any real light will be thrown on the subject by injecting it into the Republican primary campaigns. That’s largely because I don’t think they’ll be any real consideration of what makes the question hard.
For many people it’s difficult to categorize frozen embryos. They aren’t children/people. (Yes, I know some will say they are, but I think most people will not and certainly most people who engage in IVF will not.) But they are also not simple objects like tables and chairs. They have special significance–special potential.
Many people using IVF will want to save them for a while, thinking they may use them in the future. And of course, many people will use some of them in the future. But in the end, some will be leftover. And then? Do you give them away? Have them destroyed? Donate them for research? Keep them frozen forever? These are, it must be clear, potentially difficult questions.
They are also, it seems to me, personal questions. If one person or couple wants to donate them to another person or couple who wants to use them, who am I to stop them? But if she/he/they do not want to let someone else use them, who am I to insist that they must?
I’m glad to know that some clinics are trying to get people to focus on these questions. I wonder about what the most likely time for those conversations really is. I mean, it’s easy to say you should think about it from the get-go, but realistically people just starting IVF have many other things that must take precedence in their thoughts. I suspect it is inevitable that this is a bridge you think about crossing only when you come to it.
Ultimately though I think the issue an important one, I do have my doubts about whether injecting the issue into the end-stage of a fiercely contested Republican primary is likely to offer a chance for much insightful thinking.