The moral unacceptability of abandoning human embryos

Ryan Stewart Tonkens

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The focus of this paper is on the ethics of the act of wilfully ‘‘abandoning’’
human embryos. I offer a critique of this unique behaviour, which draws on
empirical data about who wilfully abandons their surplus embryos and why. I argue that wilful embryo abandonment is in all cases avoidable. Given this, I make three observations which speak to the moral unacceptability of embryo abandonment. The first has to do with the abandoner’s unfair treatment of the clinic storing their abandoned embryos, and the second the abandoner’s apparent lack of sympathy for the plight of other people like them, who require assistance (e.g. donated embryos) in pursuing their family-building goals. The third observation has to do with the abandoner’s failure to meet their responsibility for directing the handling of their embryos, and what their reaction to that responsibility (through abandonment) says about their moral character in certain respects. There is good reason to conclude that wilful embryo abandonment is morally unacceptable. One implication of this normative conclusion is that clinics have reasonable grounds for justifying the design of their policies and practices so as to make wilful embryo abandonment impossible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-69
Number of pages18
JournalMonash Bioethics Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Abandoned human embryos
  • Wilful embryo abandonment
  • Final disposition decisions
  • Responsibility

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