Abandonment and Accumulation: Embryonic Futures in the United States and Ecuador

Abstract

When frozen embryos are publically debated in the United States, they are most often positioned as having two possible future trajectories: (1) as individual humans and (2) as contributors to stem cell research. Long-term embryo accumulation threatens both of these futures. An accumulated embryo is stuck in a clinic, held back from having an individual future or from contributing to science. There are other kinds of futures, though. For some patients in the United States and Ecuador, where I conducted ethnographic research, future reckoning involves a vision of responsibility toward embryos embedded within a specific family. For these patients, frozen embryo donation to another family or to science constitutes abandonment. The future at stake is not that of an individual embryo’s life, but a group’s future who would abandon one of its own. These patients would rather destroy embryos than freeze them for a future away from their relations.