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Keywords:

  • work object;
  • embryo;
  • PGD;
  • ethnography;
  • ethics

Abstract

We report on one aspect of a study that explored the views and experiences of practitioners and scientists on social, ethical and clinical dilemmas encountered when working in the field of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for serious genetic disorders. The study produced an ethnography based on observation, interviews and ethics discussion groups with staff from two PGD/IVF Units in the UK. We focus here on staff perceptions of work with embryos that entails disposing of ‘affected’ or ‘spare’ embryos or using them for research. A variety of views were expressed on the ‘embryo question’ in contrast to polarised media debates. We argue that the prevailing policy acceptance of destroying affected embryos, and allowing research on embryos up to 14 days leaves some staff with rarely reported, ambivalent feelings. Staff views are under-researched in this area and we focus on how they may reconcile their personal moral views with the ethical framework in their field. Staff construct embryos in a variety of ways as ‘moral work objects’. This allows them to shift attention between micro-level and overarching institutional work goals, building on Casper's concept of ‘work objects’ and focusing on negotiation of the social order in a morally contested field.