Pre-embryo Legal Status

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One of the most controversial and confusing subjects in our society is the pre-embryo legal status. This ambiguity is firstly related to the controversial status assisted reproduction has, from religious and moral points of view. Catholicism, for example, which strictly prohibits any form of assisted reproduction, considers than even a single-cell embryo has a soul and is therefore a subject of God. This is one of their main reasons against abortion or cloning as well. But what is the pre-embryo legal status after all? Well, that might differ from country to country, depending on that country’s political status, social development, cultural aspects and religious majority.

However, it is basically up to the Law to decide the legal status of pre-embryos. Unfortunately, there is no general agreement over what pre-embryo even means exactly. Some Courts agreed that pre-embryos are “potential life”, but with others this matter is still ambiguous. For example, in 1989, when a couple decided to divorce, they went to court over the custody of their seven remaining cryopreserved pre-embryos. The couple had conceived before with the help of in vitro fertilization, but once the divorce was pronounced everyone started asking what is a pre-embryo legal status in case of a divorce. Who gets the “potential lives”? The mother wanted to have control over the pre-embryos because she wanted to try conceiving once again, whereas the father wanted to own custody in case he ever wanted other children outside the marriage.

Since the court declared the pre-embryos as “potential lives”, it considered the best option would be to give them to that person who gave them more chances to be born. Therefore, they ruled in favor of the mother.

Another controversial aspect of pre-embryo legal status is that, in America at least, there are some 400,000 pre-embryos in cryopreservation. Small percentages of these pre-embryos are donated, other are used for fertility research, one or two percent are to be destroyed and one percent will be used for quality-assurance studies. Bur since they are considered “potential lives” by the Law and as “God’s souls” by some religions, we are faced with the question of whether it is appropriate to use them in purposes other than for reproduction, or if they should exist at all. Some ideologies even battle against the period when the pre-embryo can be considered just matter and when it begins to be a life. Thereby, in the first week, or even second week of existence, the pre-embryo is not considered life by some courts. As we can see, the pre-embryo legal status is ambiguous and while there are no certain regulations, the courts have to deal with these cases individually, following common-sense rather than law.