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Report – Legal treatment of embryos created through IVF

In Custodia Legis: “In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedure that involves the “joining of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a laboratory dish.” The MedicinePlus website explains that “[i]n vitro means outside the body. Fertilization means the sperm has attached to and entered the egg.” The procedure can result in “excess” or “surplus” embryos that are not transferred to a person’s uterus as part of the initial treatment cycle. A decision then needs to be made as to what to do with such embryos, which involves both personal and legal considerations. Initially, the embryos could be frozen and stored for a period of time – a process called cryopreservation. Then, depending on what is legally permitted, those embryos could later be thawed and transferred to the uterus of the person who underwent the initial treatment cycle, they could be “donated” to another person to attempt to achieve pregnancy, they could be used for training or research purposes, or they could be discarded or destroyed. Possibly, they could even be stored indefinitely. The Law Library of Congress recently published a report on the options for, and restrictions on, the use of excess embryos created through IVF in nine jurisdictions: Australia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Although this was a relatively small selection of countries, we noted large differences between the approaches in this area of law.

  • The report, titled Legal Treatment of Embryos Created Through IVF, examines whether there are any restrictions on the number of embryos that can be created in a single IVF treatment cycle; whether there are legal limits on the number of embryos that can be transferred to a person’s uterus at one time; whether preimplantation genetic testing is permitted, and if embryos can be selected based on their sex; whether embryos can be cryopreserved, and if there are any time limits on the duration of storage; and whether embryos can be donated, used for scientific research purposes, or destroyed. A table at the start of the report summarizes our findings for some of these aspects.”

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