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A brief and personal history of ‘what’s in a name’ in reproductive genetics

Abstract

Although Juliet’s claim, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, may apply to family names, ‘that which we call’ embryos and procedures in reproductive genetics often smell sweet because the names were created to perfume not-so-sweet-smelling practices. Reproductive-genetic scientists and clinicians, including myself, have used perfumed names to make our research smell sweet for research ethics boards, research grant funders, government regulators, hospital administrators and the general public. The sweet-smelling names in reproductive genetics explored here include ‘pre-embryo’, preimplantation genetic ‘diagnosis’, ‘normal’ embryo, ‘suitable’ embryo, ‘healthy’ embryo, preimplantation genetic ‘testing’, ‘non-invasive prenatal testing’, ‘donation’, and most recently ‘mitochondrial replacement therapy’, a sweet-smelling name for germline nuclear transfer prohibited in antireproductive cloning legislation in most countries. In order for informed choices to occur for women who come to clinicians for information regarding reproductive genetics, and for transparency of scrutiny by research ethics boards, governmental regulators and the general public, it is essential that we consider the real meaning of sweet-smelling names in reproductive genetics.

  • genetics
  • reproductive medicine
  • narrative ethics

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