Two reports in the Medical Post of September 6, 1983, are of interest to those following the controversy surrounding in vitro fertilization.

The British medical establishment is supporting the concept of research on “discarded” embryos. While the organizations whose members are GP’s and nurses refuse to approve this kind of research.

Both the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) support guidelines produced by Britain’s Medical Research Council, giving the go-ahead for research on “discarded” embryos.

The RCOG goes further, stating the assumed rights of the 14-day-old embryo should be subservient to the living and that “spare embryos” could be useful in improving techniques of overcoming fertility.

The recent statement by the BMA may not be a firm decision. It has twice attempted to halt the in vitro fertilization program and both times has changed its mind after talking to the scientists concerned.

The Royal College of General Practitioners opposes any kind of research on “spare” embryos. It also opposes the practice of freezing embryos for later use. It says there is “no guarantee of safety” and that latent defects in individuals born this way may surface years later.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) condemns the technique of embryo freezing, saying “it is taking us into the realms of unnaturalness,” and says it could result in a child being born several years after the parents were dead. “Does society want this kind of abnormal event to be allowed to take place?”

The RCN also dislikes the idea of research on “spare” embryos. It notes that these embryos are only available to researchers because of attempts to help childless couples. Yet this situation has resulted in an “open sesame” for various kinds of genetic manipulation.

Future research might include somatic cell alteration, germ cell alteration, genetic surgery, asexual reproduction, ectogenesis, cloning, nuclear transplantation and the use of non-human hosts for embryos – all of which might be justified by scientists if the “search for knowledge” argument is pursued.

In Adelaide, Australia, a doctor has suggested another use for “spare” embryos.

Dr. John Kerin, director of the in vitro fertilization program at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide, says that the freezing of the embryos is no longer an experiment and the next step is to set up banks of frozen embryos.

These embryos could be donated to another infertile couple, in what he terms “early adoption at the very earliest stage.”

The recipient mother would effectively become a surrogate, bearing a child produced by the donor mother and father.