The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 243 - 247 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 3

The biopolitics of frozen embryos

Essay | Published: 9 June 2011

Manuela Monti*,1 and Carlo A. Redi2

1Scientific Unit, San Matteo Foundation for Research, Hospitalization and Health Care and 2Developmental Biology Unit, Department of Animal Biology, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy


The unresolved debate about frozen embryos has left open the discussion on “what to do with them”. There are only three ways to deal with frozen embryos: 1) to leave them frozen indefinitely; 2) to defrost and discard them and 3) to use them for research. In this paper, we suggest that the application of current scientific knowledge, instead of inappropriately referring to ethical principles or to the concept of person, could help with the decision about what to do with hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos, thus bringing the sensitive debate on bioethical issues to shared practical solutions. We face a new individual only when a new functional copy of his genome is formed. In both natural and artificial animal and plant reproduction, this principle applies. This status occurs in humans at the 4-8 cell stage. Acknowledgement of this factual datum would allow advocates of all religious and ideological beliefs to defend their principles and to realign their positions to a setting within the boundaries of current scientific knowledge.


biopolitics, frozen embryo, functional genome, human being, scientific citizenship, stem cell

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