Human life can be defined as any living entity that contains viable human DNA. There are two issues. The first is when does life begin and the second is when is it endowed with “personhood. Pro-choicers believe that the transition from human “life” to human “personhood” occurs throughout pregnancy and accordingly, that the status of an embryo lies in its potential to propagate a human being. Accordingly it should not be assigned the status of a human person. Pro-lifers on the other hand, argue that the endowment of life and personhood start virtually together and since human life is a “gift” of the creator and, the human embryo should be given the respect and indeed also 6the right to life that is morally and legally afforded any living person. Pro-lifers argue in favor of outlawing any action that would prevent a fertilized egg from propagating a live birth. Thus, purposefully discarding human embryos is considered ethically repugnant and many who believe that freezing human embryos would often prejudice their survival, consider embryo cryopreservation likewise to be unacceptable.
Simply stated, there is presently no consensus as to when a human life becomes a human person and therein lies crux of the ethical debate surrounding the dispensation of supernumerary human embryos, whether they can be discarded, cryopreserved for future transfer to the uterus use or be used for research (such as that which involves human embryonic stem cells), aimed at enhancing the human condition.
The number of frozen embryos in the U.S.A probably exceeds 1,000,000. To avoid high order multiple births with associated serious maternal and perinatal risks most IVF clinics do not recommend transferring more than two (2) at a time. Some in fact recommend transferring only one. The left-over embryos are frozen – and the couple has to decide on their dispensation. Some elect to have the embryos stored (cryobanked) and transferred in a subsequent frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle. Others choose to donate the embryos for research. In some cases, others will elect for them to be thawed and destroyed..
Against this background, it is true to say that women/couples with embryos frozen in fertility clinics face serious legal, ethical, and moral dilemmas as they try to decide what to do with them. Some states such as Louisiana and Missouri have laws aimed at protecting the legal rights of embryos. The state of Virginia even appoints legal counsel to embryos undergoing testing.
Most fertility centers limit their storage of human embryos to year or two. Thereupon patients must decide what to do with them. In general, about half will opt for continued storage, about one in five will opt to have their embryos discarded, ten percent will surrender their frozen embryos for adoption and another 10% will donate them for research.
As the debate over the fate of left-over frozen human embryos rages on, regardless of where the pendulum ultimately settles, it is important that the sacredness of human life always be recognized and taken into serious consideration.