Skip to main content

Research: Embryo

  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online:
Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics


Embryo research generates therapies for reproductive and nonreproductive conditions. It often involves embryonic stem cells (ESCs) obtained through the destruction of embryos. Ethical and regulatory questions about the acceptability of destroying embryos center on whether and when embryos become morally significant. Many regulatory frameworks hold that human embryos have some level of moral significance but are not morally equivalent to persons and that it is preferable to use excess embryos for research than to discard them. These permit embryo research with restrictions, typically limiting it to using excess embryos that are no longer clinically needed. Ethical concerns also arise about using the word “discard” as a euphemism for “destroy”; the adequacy of disclosure during informed consent; societal influences that impede voluntariness; and possible commodification of ova, embryos, and women. This entry explores these issues for human embryo and ESC research and highlights the roles of governments, associations, institutions, and RECs in promoting research integrity and adherence to human subject protections, without which clinical advances in research would be impossible. It does not discuss the many ethical concerns regarding nonhuman embryo research or human manipulations to determine sex or enhance traits.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  • ASRM. (2013). Donating embryos for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research: A committee opinion. Fertility and Sterility, 100(4), 935–939. Accessed 21 May 2015.

  • Clifford, D. M., Fisher, S. A., Brunskill, S. J., Doree, C., Mathur, A., Watt, S., & Martin-Rendon, E. (2012). Stem cell treatment for acute myocardial infarction. The Cochrane Library. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006536.pub3.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dickenson, D. L. (2006). The lady vanishes: What’s missing from the stem cell debate. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 3(1–2), 43–54. doi:10.1007/s11673-006-9003-8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Einsiedel, E. F., & Adamson, H. (2012). Stem cell tourism and future stem cell tourists: Policy and ethical implications. Developing World Bioethics, 12(1), 35–44. doi:10.1111/j.1471-8847.2012.00319.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Emanuel, E. J., Wendler, D., & Grady, C. (2000). What makes clinical research ethical? JAMA, 283(20), 2701–2711. doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gillon, R. (2001). Is there a ‘new ethics of abortion’? Journal of Medical Ethics, 27(Suppl 2), ii5–ii9. doi:10.1136/jme.27.suppl_2.ii5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guidry-Grimes, L., & Victor, E. (2012). Another roadblock to including women in research. Hastings Center Report, 42(5), inside-back. doi: 10.1002/hast.80.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holm, S. (2002). Going to the roots of the stem cell controversy. Bioethics, 16(6), 493–507. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.0030.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jones, D. G. (2014). Stem cells: Embryonic. In: Encyclopedia of global bioethics. Springer Press. Retrieved from Accessed 21 May 2015.

  • Lo, B., & Parham, L. (2009). Ethical issues in stem cell research. Endocrine Reviews, 30(3), 204–213. doi:10.1210/er.2008-0031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Macklin, R. (2006). The new conservatives in bioethics: Who are they and what do they seek? Hastings Center Report, 36(1), 34–43. doi:10.1353/hcr.2006.0013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP). (2014). International compilation of human research standards: 2014 edition. Retrieved from Accessed 21 May 2015.

  • Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). (2010). Moving into the future with new dimensions and strategies: A vision for 2020 for women’s health research. Retrieved from Accessed 21 May 2015.

  • Sawai, T. (2014). The moral value of induced pluripotent stem cells: A Japanese bioethics perspective on human embryo research. Journal of Medical Ethics, 40(11), 766–769. doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101838.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Warnock, M. (1986/2007). Do human cells have rights? In R. Chadwick, H. Kuhse, W. E. Landman, U. Schuklenk, & P. Singer (Eds.), The bioethics reader: Editors choice (pp. 313–327). New York: Blackwell Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

Further Readings

  • Hyun, I. (2010). The bioethics of stem cell research and therapy. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 120(1), 71–75. doi:10.1172/JCI40435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knowles, L. P. (2009). A survey of ethical and legal issues related to stem cell research. World Stem Cell Report. Retrieved from Accessed 21 May 2015.

  • Macklin, R. (1994). Splitting embryos on the slippery slope: Ethics and public policy. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 4(3), 209–225. doi:10.1353/ken.0.0161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Daryl Ramai or Cheryl C. Macpherson .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2015 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

About this entry

Cite this entry

Ramai, D., Macpherson, C.C. (2015). Research: Embryo. In: ten Have, H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-05544-2

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Religion and PhilosophyReference Module Humanities and Social SciencesReference Module Humanities

Publish with us

Policies and ethics