Monash Bioethics Review

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 379–395 | Cite as

Of research and reproduction: defining embryo ‘Research’ in Canada

  • Alana Cattapan
  • Dave Snow
Biobanking Eggs and Embryos for Research


This article traces how embryo research has been theorized in Canada from the late 1980s to the current day. We find that research on human embryos has gradually come to be viewed in dichotomous terms, with scientific research pulled apart from experimentation to improve assisted reproduction procedures within fertility clinics. This distinction has been made manifest most clearly in the federal government’s 2007 consent regulations. The distinction between ‘improvement of assisted reproduction procedures’ and ‘research’ is problematic on two accounts. First, interviews reveal that many Canadian IVF patients do not distinguish between the improvement of assisted reproduction and broader conceptions of ‘research’. This suggests that patients may be consenting to participate in embryo experimentation even where they do not understand its purposes. Second, the dichotomy may allow researchers and clinicians to evade research protocols that might otherwise apply in Canadian law. This could permit fertility clinics to conduct what might in other contexts fall under the category of ‘research’ without prescribed oversight, and may even enable clinicians and researchers to engage in practices that policymakers deliberately sought to proscribe. We call for a re-evaluation of the legal distinctions on embryo experimentation built into Canadian law, and indeed built into broader discussions of embryo research.


Embryo research Canada Infertility Informed consent Embryonic stem cell research 


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Copyright information

© Monash University 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of MedicineDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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