Innogen  ·  Publications  ·  Journal articles
Reconstructing embryos in stem cell research: Exploring the meaning of embryos for people involved in fertility treatments

Parry, S

Social Science & Medicine   62 (10) 2349-2359

May 2006

The use of human embryos is a key controversy in public debates on stem cell research (SCR), yet little attention has been given to the context or sources from which embryos are obtained: people involved in fertility programmes. How they feel about the use of embryos in SCR, and what may lead them to agree or refuse to donate embryos, remains unexplored.

In this paper, I investigate the views of people involved in fertility programmes who may be approached to donate their embryos for SCR, drawing on focus group discussions with two support groups in Scotland. I illustrate how people come to make particular decisions and what factors shape this, and show that participants' views are context-bound, borne out of lived experiences both within the clinic and wider society.

In particular, the evidence highlights the importance of understanding their views of what constitutes a 'spare' embryo and what areas of medical research are considered potentially legitimate for using embryos. Peoples' understandings of embryos as potential lives, and the context in which embryos are created, have direct implications for their views about donating embryos for SCR. Attention is paid to how SCR further disrupts the teleology of embryos and undermines the narrative of life that suffuses the hopes of people undergoing fertility treatment.

The paper also brings to the fore the sense of moral obligation experienced by participants who feel they have little means or power for influencing the topic and content of SCR. In this context, I suggest there is a need to explore further the views of people involved in fertility treatments in order to identify mechanisms for limiting the potential for coercion when SCR is embedded in and dependent on fertility practices. Debates about using embryos for SCR must, therefore, include the voices of those who thus remain marginalised.