The Human embryo

Mapping patients’ ethical decisions in Hungary


  • Lilla Vicsek Corvinus University of Budapest
  • Judit Sándor Central European University
  • Zsófia Bauer Corvinus University of Budapest; Ynsight Research

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bioethics, embryo, qualitative study, assisted reproduction


When in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments first appeared in Hungarian legislation, the related experiences and the moral dilemmas of couples who go through these procedures were unknown. Couples have to make a great variety of decisions during the IVF process. In our study, we focus on the journey of the human embryo in IVF treatment through the ethical lenses of women. In order to explore the differences between established ethical and legal frameworks and the perspectives of women who have participated in an IVF procedure in Hungary, we conducted semi-structured interviews. In contrast to the static view of embryos typical to a part of the ethics literature, which also characterizes most established legal frameworks, patients’ view of embryos of interviewees was dynamic: they interpreted embryos in a malleable and constantly changing way. Embryos were perceived differently depending on time, place, and biological characteristics, and primarily in relation to how they could contribute to achieving the goals of treatment. In this article, we also demonstrate that
the main ethical framework that the participants in our research evoked in relation to the IVF process was related to the ethics of medical treatment. At the end of the paper we also make an attempt to draw some conclusions that may help ameliorate problems with the current normative ethical and legal framework by incorporating the experiences of women who participate in IVF procedures.

Author Biographies

Lilla Vicsek, Corvinus University of Budapest

Lilla Vicsek holds a Ph.D. in sociology. She is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at Corvinus University of Budapest. Since more than a decade, her main research interests have been connected to science, technology and society. She has investigated topics such as effects of the way certain technologies are framed in the media, myths connected to reproductive technologies and fertility, and the way embryos are viewed by in vitro fertilization patients. Currently, her primary research focus is visions of artificial intelligence and the future of work. Her publications on these topics have appeared in journals such as International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Science as Culture, New Genetics and Society, and Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy.

Judit Sándor, Central European University

Judit Sándor is a full professor at the Faculty of Political Science, Legal Studies and Gender Studies of the Central European University (CEU-PU), in Budapest and in Vienna. She had a bar exam in Hungary she conducted legal practice at Simmons & Simmons in London, had fellowships at McGill (Montreal), at Stanford (Palo Alto), and at Maison de sciences de l’homme (Paris). In 1996 she received her Ph.D. in law and political science. She was a Global Research Fellow at NYU in New York. In 2004-2005 she was the Chief of the Bioethics Section at the UNESCO. She published eleven books in the field of human rights and biomedical law. Since September 2005 she is a founding director of the Center for Ethics and Law in Biomedicine (CELAB). She has completed many European research projects in the field of biobanks, genetic data, stem cell research, organ transplantation and human reproduction. In October 2019 she received an ERC Synergy Grant.

Zsófia Bauer, Corvinus University of Budapest; Ynsight Research

Zsófia Bauer is a PhD candidate at Institute of Communication and Sociology, Corvinus University of Budapest. Her main research interests are science and technology studies, sociology of health and illness, and innovative qualitative methods for social media research. Her PhD thesis focuses on infertility treatment and reproductive technologies practices in the Hungarian health care system.




How to Cite

Vicsek, L., Sándor, J. and Bauer, Z. 2021. The Human embryo: Mapping patients’ ethical decisions in Hungary. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics. 7, 2 (Jul. 2021), 149–169. DOI: