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How reproductive and regenerative medicine meet in a Chinese fertility clinic. Interviews with women about the donation of embryos to stem cell research
  1. Anika Mitzkat1,
  2. Erica Haimes2,
  3. Christoph Rehmann-Sutter3
  1. 1Institute for History, Theory and Ethics of Medicine, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
  2. 2Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences (PEALS) Research Centre, Newcastle University, UK
  3. 3Institute for the History of Medicine and Science Studies, University of Lübeck, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Anika Mitzkat, Institute for History, Theory and Philosophy of Medicine, Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Am Pulverturm 13, 55131 Mainz, Germany; mitzkat{at}


The social interface between reproductive medicine and embryonic stem cell research has been investigated in a pilot study at a large IVF clinic in central China. Methods included observation, interviews with hospital personnel, and five in-depth qualitative interviews with women who underwent IVF and who were asked for their consent to the donation of embryos for use in medical (in fact human embryonic stem cell) research. This paper reports, and discusses from an ethical perspective, the results of an analysis of these interviews. The participants talked of extreme social pressure to become pregnant. Once they had a baby, ‘spare’ embryos lost practical significance due to the Chinese one-child policy. In the context of decision making about donating embryos to research, the women used the clinical distinctions between ‘good and bad quality’ embryos and also between frozen and transferred embryos, as guiding moral distinctions. In the absence of concrete information about what sort of research their embryos should be used for, the women interviewed either refused consent (for fear that the embryo would be given to another couple) or accepted, expressing motives of solidarity with other women in a similar situation. This reveals that they filled the knowledge gap with an image of research improving fertility treatment.

  • Embryo donation
  • IVF
  • hESC research
  • ‘spare’
  • embryos
  • informed consent
  • patients perspective
  • embryos and fetuses
  • in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer

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  • Funding The study has been funded by the EU FP-6 project BIONET.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Ethics Committee of CITIC-Xiangya Hospital of Reproduction and Genetics in Changsha.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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