Donating Fresh versus Frozen Embryos to Stem Cell Research: In Whose Interests?
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Some stem cell researchers believe that it is easier to derive human embryonic stem cells from fresh rather than frozen embryos and they have had in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinicians invite their infertility patients to donate their fresh embryos for research use. These embryos include those that are deemed 'suitable for transfer' (i.e. to the woman's uterus) and those deemed unsuitable in this regard. This paper focuses on fresh embryos deemed suitable for transfer - hereafter 'fresh embryos'- which IVF patients have good reason not to donate. We explain why donating them to research is not in the self-interests specifically of female IVF patients. Next, we consider the other-regarding interests of these patients and conclude that while fresh embryo donation may serve those interests, it does so at unnecessary cost to patients' self-interests. Lastly, we review some of the potential barriers to the autonomous donation of fresh embryos to research and highlight the risk that female IVF patients invited to donate these embryos will misunderstand key aspects of the donation decision, be coerced to donate, or be exploited in the consent process. On the basis of our analysis, we conclude that patients should not be asked to donate their fresh embryos to stem cell research.