In-vitro metaphors: ART beneficiaries' meaning-making about human embryos in the context of IVF in Portugal

Reprod Biomed Soc Online. 2021 Jun 29;13:62-74. doi: 10.1016/j.rbms.2021.05.003. eCollection 2021 Aug.


This article proposes a metaphorical approach to the meaning-making of Portuguese assisted reproductive technology (ART) beneficiaries about human embryos created in vitro, based on the analysis of 30 in-depth interviews. This article draws from an ongoing research project on expert and lay definitions of human embryos developed in vitro, both in ART and scientific research. Four metaphors were identified in patients' utterances about the embryo's status and attributes: embryos are possibilities of success of treatment; utilities that can be the object of ownership and dispositional control; potential offspring with whom there are family and emotional ties; and a counter-gift to science or to other beneficiaries, in response to the generosity of professionals or gamete donors. These rhetorical devices seem to ease the tensions inherent in the technical procedures of medically assisted reproduction. Examining the meaning of attributive metaphors used by patients undergoing in-vitro fertilization about their embryos in vitro is thus essential to understanding their personal experiences, so that healthcare professionals can direct their actions/interventions towards their specific needs and concerns, which are not always spoken.

Keywords: Embryo conceptualization; In-vitro fertilization; Metaphor; Qualitative research; Sociological factors.