Increasingly, important areas of medical research and therapy rely on the supply of human tissue. Innovative science relies on the willingness of the public to supply cells, tissues, organs and entities with indeterminate status such as human embryos through altruistic donation. Such donation is determined by the attitudes and perceptions of the public to science but also by their values and beliefs about broader social issues such as bodies, death, reproduction and family.
Decisions about the use of tissue from sources such as newly dead bodies and frozen human embryos are growing in frequency and complexity. So much so that the use of human tissue is subject to ethico-legal regulation in Australia as it is in many countries. Contentious debate typically accompanies regulation of science and in this way the scope of scientific innovation and its clinical translation comes to be determined by public tolerance.
In this paper the views of potential and actual donors of biological material for science will be explored. I will draw upon two major empirical studies: the first is a qualitative study of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) patients who made choices for the disposition of frozen supernumerary embryos and in particular the sample group who chose to donate frozen embryos to science. The second is a large, representative population survey of the South Australian community regarding their views about biological donation. In this survey we studied community values and perspectives of the status of embryos and dead bodies, what uses the community found acceptable/ not acceptable, and perceptions of who should be authorised to consent to the donation.