Creating and selling embryos for “donation”: ethical challenges

Published:October 31, 2014DOI:
      The commercial creation and sale of embryos has begun, which poses a series of ethical questions that have received little scholarly attention. Some of the concerns that arise are similar to those posed by the sale of gametes, while other issues differ markedly. Questions emerge, first, regarding the rights of the unborn children and their ability to know their biological parents. Companies that create human embryos de novo may wish to keep gamete providers anonymous. Many of these offspring thus will never learn that their parents are not their biologic parents. Yet, such disclosures, regarding not only one but both of these biologic parents, may be important for these individuals; and a lack of this knowledge may impede their physical and psychological health. Second, questions surface regarding the fees that providers should charge for embryos and whether these amounts should vary based on the traits of 1 or both of the gamete donors. Some prospective parents may seek specific traits in a baby (eg, height or eye/hair coloring), which prompts the creation of embryos from 2 gamete donors who possess these characteristics. Third, ownership of embryos created without an advanced directive by patients poses dilemmas (eg, disposition of any remaining embryos). Fourth, guidelines do not yet exist to limit the number of embryos sold from each pair of gamete donors. Hence, unbeknownst to each other, full siblings could potentially meet, get married, and procreate. This discussion has several critical implications for future practice and professional education and policy. Patients with diseases associated with genetic tests may well ask obstetricians, gynecologists, and other physicians about these techniques and practices. Clinicians can refer such patients to assisted reproductive technology specialists; however, familiarity with the basic aspects of the issues and complexities involved could aid these providers and their patients Several of these issues can be addressed relatively easily through guidelines from professional associations (eg, limiting the number of embryos sold from each pair of gamete donors). Because creation and sales of embryos will likely spread, consideration of appropriate responses is critical to establish standards of care to help the future offspring, and ensure ongoing public trust.

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