Death in the clinic: women's perceptions and experiences of discarding supernumerary IVF embryos

Sheryl de Lacey

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Perspectives on the status of human embryos and whether they should be discarded differ globally. Some countries protect embryos in law while in other countries embryos ‘die’ or ‘succumb’ in assisted reproductive technology clinics on a daily basis. This study analyses interview data drawn from a larger qualitative study conducted in South Australia from 2004–2007. 21 women and 12 of 21 partners were interviewed about the decision they made to discard their embryos. The analysis reported here sought to examine the ways in which women constructed and experienced the decision to discard embryos. The article highlights the ways in which embryo discard is a contested discursive space. Embryo death is sequestered through their confinement in the laboratory and their invisibility to the naked eye. The clinic treated embryo discard as disposal of biological waste and failed to acknowledge the meaning of the event. By contrast women experienced emotional bereavement described as similar to early pregnancy loss, and described experiences of attachment and grief. For sensitive and compassionate care these differences in perceptions of embryo discard need to be addressed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)397-411
    Number of pages15
    JournalSociology of Health and Illness
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


    • death
    • embryo
    • embryo discard
    • embryo disposition
    • In Vitro fertilisation
    • scientisation
    • sequestration


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