What to do with remaining embryos after IVF?

In vitro fertilization (IVF) involves creating embryos from eggs and sperm. Often several embryos are created, with only one or two being transferred to the woman’s womb. Any remaining embryos are typically cryopreserved (frozen) and stored for later use. However, once their family is complete, depending on an individual or couple’s beliefs and values, they may face a moral and/or ethical dilemma about what to do with the remaining embryos.

In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, Sara Cohen, a lawyer who specializes in reproductive law, outlines four possible options for surplus embryo disposition:

1)    Destroy the embryos by thawing them so they are no longer useable.

2)    Donate the embryos to medical research. The frozen embryos can be transferred to another medical facility, if the clinic doesn’t offer this option.

3)    Donate the embryos to another individual or couple who are unable to conceive. Some clinics facilitate this process, or there are embryo adoption agencies.

4)    Continue to have cryopreserve the embryos stored by the clinic, so that a decision can be made at a later date.

According to Cohen, fertility clinics report that many patients opt for the last option – continuing to have the frozen embryos stored indefinitely. However, given the ongoing cost of this option, it may not be preferable to all patients. Continued storage also does not allow psychological closure – which can be an ongoing burden.

Embryo donation may also be a solution for individuals and couples who believe it is unethical to destroy or donate embryos to science. However, there are important psychosocial, legal, ethical, and moral issues that need to be explored when considering embryo donation. Also, the laws governing embryo donation and embryo adoption differ across countries, states, and individual fertility centres, so those considering this option need to be aware of local laws.

Read more about embryo donation here.

Read the article here.

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