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There are ethical obligations to conduct research that contributes to generalisable knowledge and improves reproductive health, and this should include embryo research in jurisdictions where it is permitted. Often, the controversial nature of embryo research can alarm ethics committee members, which can unnecessarily delay important research that can potentially improve fertility for patients and society. Such delay is ethically unjustified. Moreover, countries such as the UK, Australia and Singapore have legislation which unnecessarily captures low-risk research, such as observational research, in an often cumbersome and protracted review process. Such countries should revise such legislation to better facilitate low-risk embryo research.We introduce a philosophical distinction to help decision-makers more efficiently identify higher risk embryo research from that which presents no more risks to persons than other types of tissue research. That distinction is between future person embryo research and non-future person embryo research. We apply this distinction to four examples of embryo research that might be presented to ethics committees.Embryo research is most controversial and deserving of detailed scrutiny when it potentially affects a future person. Where it does not, it should generally require less ethical scrutiny. We explore a variety of ways in which research can affect a future person, including by deriving information about that person, and manipulating eggs or sperm before an embryo is created.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Ethics

Publication Date



Embryo Research, Embryos and Fetuses, Ethics, Ethics Committees