The Legal Nature of the Embryo: Legal Subject or Legal Object?

Keywords: Legal subjectivity, Legal subject, Legal object, Cryo-preserved ova, Embryo, Person, Property, Legal status, Foetus.


This contribution addresses the question regarding the legal nature of a cryopreserved embryo. Such preservation is a relatively modern development in the medical field. Neither Tennessee (USA) law nor European law provides an acceptable explanation regarding its legal nature. It is argued herein that this is mainly due to the fact that rather unscientific language is applied. It is suggested that the using of concise legal terminology may contribute to a better understanding. The terms legal subject and object and legal subjectivity are well-known and have definite legal content. By drawing an analogy between the legal status of an infant and such embryos, the conclusion is reached that embryos are not legal subjects sui iuris but indeed share the legal subjectivity of their parents.


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Author Biography

Robbie Robinson, North-West University

JA Robinson. B Iur LLB, LLD (PU for CHE), LLM (NWU, Potchefstroom Campus), Professor in the Faculty of Law, North-West-University, Potchefstroom Campus. E-mail:


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How to Cite
Robinson, R. (2018). The Legal Nature of the Embryo: Legal Subject or Legal Object?. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 21, 1-31.