When SHG reaches out to IVF centers with an offer to provide burial for the embryos who die in their labs, one of their stated objections is that burial is a patient decision, and that they could not send deceased embryos to SHG for burial without the patients’ permission.
It’s tempting to point out that, without permission, the lab deems it acceptable to throw away patients’ deceased embryonic children.
There is a choice: waste or burial, and SHG asks the IVF center if it would consider updating its pre-IVF informed consent process to include options for how embryos who die in the lab are handled. This is the message of SHG’s current IVF center outreach postcard (see page 3).
Informed consent is “the process in which a health care provider educates a patient about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a given procedure or intervention.”* It is “both an ethical and legal obligation of medical practitioners in the US and originates from the patient’s right to direct what happens to their body.”*
In the case of IVF, this should extend to “informed permission,” that is, the right of a parent to determine what happens to their children’s bodies, including in the event of death.
The goal of IVF is to generate a “microscopic human being” (R. Edwards, A Matter of Life, 1980), and this generation is the raison d’être for an IVF family. Every human being, in any stage of development, has a body. IVF families should have the power of informed permission and be thus able to direct the handling of the bodily remains of their deceased embryonic children.
In a recent call to a New Jersey-based IVF center, the clinic manager energetically shared that she was “astonished and appalled” at the idea of presenting burial to her “emotionally fragile patients.” The perceived emotional state of a patient should not negate the ethical obligation of providing prospective IVF clients with education about the human nature of their embryos, the mortal risks to embryos in the IVF process, and the availability of burial for the embryos who die in the lab, as an alternative to medical waste disposal.