Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview

sixty-three
Embryo Research--
Legal Issues

SHARYN ROACH ANLEU

The status of the embryo is highly contested, and little agreement exists among medical scientists, religious leaders, feminists, right-to-life advocates, lawyers, philosophers, and policymakers on the moral significance of fertilization. A major problem for the law in this area is the rapidity of scientific experimentation and the production of new knowledge and technological procedures. The level of disagreement about the status of the embryo means that any laws and legal definitions will be to some extent arbitrary, pragmatic, and the focus of continual controversy.

The legality of embryo experimentation varies enormously. In some countries, for example, Germany, legislation completely bans embryo research. Others, including three Australian states and the United Kingdom, have passed statutes allowing experimentation under limited circumstances and with time constraints. In the United States, the disbanding of the Ethics Advisory Board has meant that there is no federal funding for embryo research. Commentators suggest that the questions around embryo research are too closely tied to abortion debates and that conservative governments during the 1980s were unwilling to countenance such research. In addition, a number of U.S. states have fetal research laws that could be used to prohibit research on human embryos. For example, a 1986 Louisiana law treats an embryo created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a juridical person who is owed a duty of care.

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