Tick Tock Goes the Clock: Rethinking Policy and Embryo Storage Limits

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Feminist Legal Studies, 2014, 22 (3), pp. 285 - 306
Issue Date:
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© 2014, The Author(s). Cryopreservation of human embryos remains, in many jurisdictions, a critical component of the use of the technology of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in assisted reproduction. However, although the reasons for the freezing of reproductive material—such as cost effectiveness and reducing risks of IVF—are a constant across jurisdictions, the desirable length of storage remains subject to ongoing regulatory debate. Internationally embryo storage limits are variable. This article features data from a recent Australian research project which explores individual attitudes, desires and understandings of law of IVF patients (and their partners) who had or who have embryos in storage. This article uses interviews from the study to argue that storage limits, like any apparently neutral regulatory tool, apply unequally causing unintended physical, mental and emotional harm—particularly to women. This analysis of storage limits exposes the interaction of time, science and law to create, apply and enforce norms and practices of ‘natural’ embryo storage, suggesting that the imposition of inflexible legislative restrictions upon embryo storage are socially contingent and value laden rather than ‘natural’ or ‘scientific’. This outcome has relevance to wider debates over assisted reproduction policies, suggesting that legal frameworks should adopt more flexibility in application to the patients who use this technology.
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