Should a UK woman be able to fertilize, implant and gestate her deceased daughter’s frozen eggs?


By: Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.

While many parents of children of childbearing age make no secret of their desire to become grandparents, one woman in the UK took her request to the High Court.

Britain’s High Court has denied the 59-year-old woman – whose daughter died in 2011 at the age of 28 – the right to use her deceased daughter’s frozen eggs after determining that it wasn’t clear that the daughter had wanted her eggs used for this purpose.

The daughter did, in fact, sign a form consenting to having her eggs frozen after her death, but it in no way specifies how or with whom the eggs should be used. The deceased’s mother sought to ship the eggs to a U.S. fertility clinic where they would have been fertilized and then implanted in her. In other words: the grandmother would gestate and deliver her own grandchild.

The BBC reports that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) – Britain’s fertility regulator – refused to allow the woman to remove her daughter’s frozen eggs from storage, citing the fact that her daughter had not granted her full consent permitting her parents to fertilize and her mother gestate any resulting embryos following her death.

From an ethical perspective, the fact that the deceased specifically granted consent to having her eggs frozen, but did not stipulate that she would like them fertilized and gestated by her mother – as the mother claims – is telling. While it can be argued that the main reason to freeze eggs is for the purpose of reproduction, many might also argue that it’s impossible to infer or guess as to if, when and with whom she would actually have them fertilized and gestated (by one’s parent or anyone else).

It is futile to speculate how the deceased would want her frozen eggs to be utilized, but if her wishes were as specific as having her own mother gestate any resulting embryos, it is necessary to have this documented.

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist at the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University, editor of Ethics & Society, and coordinates the HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @elizabethics

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