Some terms that appear in discussions about early human life may give you pause, and hopefully the motivation to ask, “What exactly does that mean?”

To use. To put into action or service. To utilize or consume.

Example. “The treatment yielded 6 embryos; we used 2, and we held on to the rest in case we wanted another child.”

IVF relegates embryonic human beings to biological agents, something needed to produce an effect (i.e., pregnancy).  But pregnancy exists to support the human being, not the other way around. The embryo already has infinite value simply based on what (or more accurately, who) it is, not on how it can be used.

Allow to die naturally. Some people mistakenly hold that removing an embryo from storage without intended uterine transfer results in the embryo’s natural death, and no one can be said to have killed the embryo (ie., young human being).

Consider: If someone intentionally left an infant outside on a -0° Minnesota winter night, would that child’s death also be “natural?” Blameless?

Family Balancing. Also known as Gender Selection. In conjunction with IVF, gender can be selected by utilizing Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), a technology that involves testing the chromosomal make-up of an embryo. Once the test results are known, only the embryo(s) of the desired gender are returned to the patient’s uterus.

Consider: What happens to the embryos not selected?

Pre-Embryo. Common use: “a fertilized ovum up to 14 days old, before it becomes implanted in the uterus.” (The American Heritage® Dictionary).

Consider instead: “The partisans of the nonhumanity of the most extreme youth strove to use a meaningless neologism, the term pre-embryo. Meaningless scientifically, because before the embryo there are only the egg and the sperm.” (Jerome Lejeune, M.D., Ph.D. The Concentration Can.)

Fertilized Egg. Common use: the cell resulting from union of a male and a female gamete.

Consider instead: “Referring to the product of sperm-egg fusion as a “fertilized egg” is misleading; once an egg is fertilized, it ceases to be an egg.” (Maureen Condic, Ph.D. When Does Human Life Begin?).

Thaw and Discard. Common use:  a disposition option for remaining cryopreserved embryos when a person/couple has decided not to undergo further assisted reproductive technologies cycles. The embryos are removed from cryostorage, allowed to thaw and disposed of as medical waste.

Consider instead: The critical detail too often omitted in explanations of “thaw and discard” is that a cryopreserved embryo is very much alive. Intentionally thawing an embryo without the intent of uterine transfer is a conscious decision to kill him or her.

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