Promising waste: biobanking, embryo research, and infrastructures of ethical efficiency

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Biobanks are custodial institutions that enhance the utility and value of biological materials by collecting and curating them. Their custodial functions tend to include ethical oversight and governance. This paper explores how biobanks increase the value of biological materials by standardizing routines of governance in order to engender "ethical efficiency." Focusing in particular upon banking of human embryos for research, the article offers an historical account of how human embryos came to be "waste" available for use by researchers in the US. It offers a case study of a human embryo biobank and the practices of ethical governance that the biobank employs to capture this waste and convert it into a valuable resource for research use. The article draws attention to the ways biobanks' emphasis on efficiency and resolving problems of ethical governance up front codifies otherwise contested normative relationships and authorizes uses of human biological materials that some see as ethically problematic, even as it eliminates institutionalized mechanisms of reflection in which such problems would otherwise be acknowledged and confronted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-324
Number of pages24
JournalMonash bioethics review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Biobanking
  • Ethical efficiency
  • Governance
  • Human embryo research
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Standardization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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