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Adoption first? The disposition of human embryos
  1. Timothy F Murphy
  1. Correspondence to Dr Timothy F Murphy, Department of Medical Education mc 591, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago, IL 60612-7309, USA; tmurphy{at}uic.edu

Abstract

Anja Karnein has suggested that because of the importance of respect for persons, law and policy should require some human embryos created in vitro to be available for adoption for a period of time. If no one comes forward to adopt the embryos during that time, they may be destroyed (in the case of embryos left over from fertility medicine) or used in research (in the case of embryos created for that purpose or left over from fertility medicine). This adoption option would increase the number of embryos available for couples looking for help in having children, but that effect is less important—Karnein argues—than the observance of respect for human persons. As possible persons, she holds that embryos ought to be treated, as if they will become children, if only for a while. If enacted as a matter of law and policy, an ‘adoption option’ would wrongly interfere with the dispositional rights women and men ought to have over embryos they create in the course of trying to have children. Karnein's proposal would also deprive researchers of certainty that the embryos they create for research would actually be available that way, leading to increased burdens of time and money and maybe even to more embryos than would otherwise be produced. Karnein's analysis does not show, moreover, that any duty of rescue applies to embryos. No woman is required to adopt any embryo, which significantly undercuts the justification for an obligatory adoption period.

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