LONDON — Breaking open glass tubes stored in freezing nitrogen, scientists at fertility clinics in Britain reluctantly destroyed several thousand abandoned human embryos Thursday under a law limiting storage to five years.
The government rejected pleas from anti-abortion activists to intervene to save the embryos.
Scientists complained about the waste of their work as they smashed glass tubes containing the embryos--four-cell dots the size of a grain of sand--that died within minutes and were then incinerated.
"It has been very distressing and frustrating for everyone," said Ian Craft, director of a London test-tube clinic where a first batch of 200 embryos was destroyed. "They should have given people a year's grace to claim unclaimed embryos."
There were last-minute reprieves for the embryos of two married women--one an American and the other a British soldier now stationed in Germany. They called clinics just hours before the destruction program began.
But there was no word from the rest of about 900 donor couples who cannot be traced or who refuse to answer registered letters.
Couples trying to have babies by in vitro fertilization often are able to produce multiple embryos, some of which are frozen to keep for future attempts in case the first implantation is not successful.