Health Care Analysis

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 171–188

Pre-Persons, Commodities or Cyborgs: The Legal Construction and Representation of the Embryo

  • Marie Fox

DOI: 10.1023/A:1009406729739

Cite this article as:
Fox, M. Health Care Analysis (2000) 8: 171. doi:10.1023/A:1009406729739


This paper explores how embryos have been representedin law. It argues that two main models haveunderpinned legal discourse concerning the embryo. Onediscourse, which has become increasingly prevalent,views embryos as legal subjects or persons. Suchrepresentations are facilitated by technologicaldevelopments such as ultrasound imaging. In additionto influencing Parliamentary debate prior to thepassage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act1990, images of embryos as persons featureprominently in popular culture, including advertisingand films, and this discourse came to the fore in the`orphaned embryo' debate in 1996. The main opposingdiscourse dismisses embryos as commodifiable objects,which fits with a trend towards legal recognition thatreproductive materials such as sperm may be classifiedas property which may be donated or sold. In thecase of cryo-preserved embryos these competingperspectives have resulted in litigation over thestatus of frozen embryos. In this paper I argue thatit might be productive to shift the debate from thispolarised dispute over whether embryos matter or not,whether they are pre-persons or commodities. Instead,I suggest that we should attempt to locate them in abiotechnological milieu, where cyborg metaphors may beutilised, and questions of how we should treat embryoswould be contextualised alongside our response toother cyborgs.

cyborg embryo feminism law personhood property 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie Fox
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ManchesterManchesterUK