For the second time in two days I’ll do a quick post pointing to something in the New York Times. Today it’s this feature, about the dilemma posed by the large (and increasing) number of frozen embryos. In part this seems to have been inspired by the recent Illinois case I blogged about recently, but it really covers a lot of ground. I think I’ll just touch on a few of the notable points here.
First off, you can see why there is a frozen embryo problem. It is simply routine to create more embryos than are needed. Before eggs could readily be frozen it also made obvious sense. If you didn’t fertilize all the eggs you had, you lost them. Once they were fertilized they could be frozen.
Even with egg freezing it probably makes sense. Not every embryo created will be viable, after all. And there are very likely some economies of scale. Creating embryos one at a time is probably way more expensive. It seems to me very likely that there will be an extra embryo problem for a long time.
So then the question is what to do with them? And here you have to think about two different sorts of cases. In some there are two people with claims to decide and they don’t agree. That’s like the case in Illinois and a string of cases that came before it. This is the only time you’re likely to see the question raised in a court of law, too–because there is a dispute that needs to be settled.
But there’s a far more common circumstances where the frozen embryos have to be dealt with–the occasions where there is no dispute and hence no “case” but where a decision still has to be made. There the newspaper feature runs through the options and you can see why they are all less than ideal, or at least why many people find them less than ideal.
While the paper does a fine job with most of this and I’ve discussed it here in the past (See the tag “frozen embryos”), there’s one practice discussed down towards the end that is worthy of further thought. I’ll just flag it now and come back to it another time. At least one CA clinic is essentially created embryos “on spec.” Instead of intended parents providing the genetic material themselves or at least selecting it, the clinic chooses egg and sperm, combines them, and then offers the resulting embryos to clients. (dare I say “for sale?”) This is qualitatively a quite different thing, but it is interesting to think about exactly why it is different and precisely what the difference means.