December 7, 2023

Barcoding embryos

Hi there,

First things first: the company which distributes our emails, AWeber, is struggling with some very nasty hackers at the moment. No personal information has been compromised, but their website is on a roller-coaster ride. If you have trouble reading the links below, please click through to the BioEdge website.

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About the bioethics of tattoos… As a child in a small American town I used to visit a tobacco shop to buy my sweets. One hot day the quiet man behind the counter with a thick Polish accent had rolled up his sleeves. I remember seeing a number tattooed on his inner forearm. It was an odd tattoo, but I didn’t ask him about it. I was more interested in the sweets.

Perhaps I should have. Perhaps I would have learned a few things about how people can treated like boxes in a warehouse. All these years later, that man’s tattoo spells out dehumanisation for me better than any textbook.

Which is why I was revolted by an article in the January issue of the journal Human Reproduction which was sent to me by a thoughtful BioEdge subscriber.

Researchers in Barcelona have come up with an “exciting” and “novel” system for tracking embryos and eggs in IVF clinics: barcodes. They have successfully attached biofunctionalized polysilicon barcodes to the outer surface of the zona pellucida.

There is always a risk of mixing up the eggs and embryos belonging to clients of the clinics. How often this happens no one knows, but it has happened. It is quite devastating for everyone concerned. The researchers think that this will solve the problem.

But isn’t this another version of the number on the forearm? Embryos/children are being branded like cattle and given numbers instead of names. Reproduction is becoming less like love and more like manufacturing. I wish the Barcelona scientists well, but does anyone else think that their idea is seriously creepy? 

Michael Cook
The bioethics of tattoos.