In Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer

The Process of Making Public Policy
  • Robert F. MurrayJr.
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Biomedicine, Ethics, and Society book series (CIBES)


The public policy generated with respect to research and application of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer in the United States grew out of the interaction of several elements. A major contributor to the process was the Ethics Advisory Board to the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). This body of eleven men and two women sought to consider the broad range of opinion and fact that existed on the topic and, using the perspective and background of its members, to arrive at recommendations for the implementation of this new reproductive technology. My objective is to present briefly the elements of the procedure used and some of the rationales for the recommendations and conclusions finally made by this board, of which I am a member.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Soupart proposed to harvest human oocytes from donors undergoing gynecological surgery (mostly tubal ligations), to fertilize them with sperm from donors, and to examine the early embryos for an abnormal number or arrangement of chromosomes or for abnormal appearance when studied under the electron microscope. Soupart also proposed to attempt to preserve human embryos resulting from human fertilization by freezing under controlled conditions. This technique was intended to circumvent adverse effects of IVF of possible trauma to the ovary in the process of removing the oocyte. By fertilizing and temporarily freezing a human embryo, then placing it back in the uterus during the next menstrual cycle, the ovary would function normally to release the hormones that support pregnancy. When the Board considered Dr. Soupart’s proposal, there was some difference of opinion among the expert witnesses from his field about its usefulness; the Board came to the conclusion that, in light of current knowledge in the field, his application should be reevaluated by the appropriate peer review committee from the Institute of Child Health and Human Development.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A moratorium on research on early embryos had been established in 1975.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The members of the Ethics advisory Board (on January 1, 1978 ) were as follows: James C. Gaither, J.D., Chairman (San Francisco, California); David A. Hamburg, M.D., Vice Chairman (President, Institute of Medicine, Washington, D.C.); Sissela Bok, Ph.D. (Cambridge, Massachusetts); Henry W. Foster, M.D. (Professor and Chairman, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee); Donald A. Henderson, M.D. (Dean, Johns Hopkins School of Health and Hygiene, Baltimore, Maryland); Richard A. McCormick, S.T.D. (Rose Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics, Kennedy Center for Bioethics, Washington, D.C.); Robert F. Murray, M.D. (Division of Medical Genetics, Howard University College of Medicine, Washington, D.C.); Mitchell W. Spellman, M.D. (Dean for Medical Services, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts); Daniel C. Tosteson, M.D. (Dean, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts); Agnes N. Williams, LL.B. (Potomac, Maryland); Eugene M. Zweiback, M.D. ( Omaha, Nebraska).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A complete listing of the issues that were developed as a result of the public testimony received from more than 25 expert witnesses with backgrounds in science, philosophy, law, and public policy appears in the appendix to the report of the board to the Secretary of HEW.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert F. MurrayJr.

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations