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Frozen in Perpetuity: 'Abandoned Embryos' in Canada

Posted by nte on June 8, 2016 in In Print

Cattapan, A., & Baylis, F. (2016). Frozen in perpetuity: 'abandoned embryos' in Canada. Reproductive BioMedicine and Society Online, 1(2), 104-112.


The matter of ‘abandoned embryos’ arises when surplus IVF embryos are frozen and stored for later use. If the fertility clinic or storage facility in question does not have clear direction about what to do with these embryos, and/or payment for storage ceases, and/or the embryo providers cannot be reached, the embryos raise an ethical and practical challenge. On the one hand, there is a commitment to respect the autonomy of embryo providers to determine what should happen to their frozen embryos. On the other hand, there are weighty reasons why fertility clinics and storage facilities do not want responsibility, potentially in perpetuity, for other people’s frozen embryos. This article examines the matter of ‘abandoned embryos’ – the emergence of the term, its use in policy and law, and its implications in the Canadian case. We demonstrate that despite an intricate legislative framework, there are important gaps that leave fertility clinics and storage facilities in the tenuous position of discarding ‘abandoned embryos’ without clear authorization, or storing them indefinitely. We argue that clarity in consent procedures coupled with flexible time limits on embryo storage provide an approach that can best serve the interests of all involved.