December 10, 2009

What to do with unused embryos…?

Posted in Infertility tagged , , , at 2:00 pm by lifebytheday

A good friend of mine (one of best internet researchers I know ;-), thanks lady!) recently sent me the link to this article – “The Maybe-Baby Dilemma” – a discussion of the options fertility patients have when dealing with “extra” or “leftover” embryos.  This is an extremely emotion-filled discussion, so I’m not going to try to make any grand claims, but just want to share some of what I think are the more interesting points of the article (and of course, my opinions on the matter). 😉 

As most of you know, embryos that are fertilized and developed through the IVF process (but not used) are frozen.  People use these frozen embryos in the event of a negative IVF cycle, or to add to their family later on.  The question becomes when people have more embryos “left over” than they can feasibly afford to turn into children (due to health issues, finances, family planning, etc.).

I am a Catholic, and I would NEVER consider getting an abortion, but I am pro-choice, in that I think only a woman and her doctor have the right to make decisions about a potential pregnancy.  (I would rather someone have an abortion than drink and do drugs throughout her pregnancy and physically or mentally damage their child.)  With that said though, if S and I are ever lucky enough to get pregnant, I don’t know what we’d do with any “left over” embryos. 

Right now, we have chosen to donate them to research.  I liken this to organ donation – if someone else can benefit from some of the misery I have been through, all the better.  The other option – donating the embryo to another couple – I just don’t think I could ever let them go.  I would have trouble knowing there was a child created by me and S walking around in the world, without us.  But like the folks referenced in the article, I know that I could never “discard” my embryos.  Here’s one of the quotes from the article, and one that truly resonates with my feelings on the matter:

“There had been this presumption that if you care about an embryo, if you think it is deserving of moral respect and concern, it is unacceptable to destroy it,” says Lyerly. Instead, she says, she heard from patients who care about and respect their embryos without seeing them as children — an attitude that may be particularly true among patients who had many embryos not “take” and learned firsthand that not every embryo is capable of becoming a baby. Research, for some, allows them to feel as if something positive comes from the cells they’d undergone invasive, difficult medical procedures to create, and gives them a sense of resolution.

Another option that was discussed was something called a “compassionate transfer” – an embryo transfer procedure that would/could not result in a pregnancy (transferring the embryos into the vagina rather than the uterus, waiting until menopause to transfer, or not taking the hormone supplements needed to maintain a pregnancy).  I guess this is new-ish, and not really supported by the medical community, but it’s definitely an option for women who feel like they can’t “throw away” their embryos.

I know about the role of embryos in the debate over stem-cells, but I didn’t know the possible extension of treating embryos as life.  One of the article’s more thought-provoking quotes:

Since the process that creates embryos is inherently risky, doctors may fear that they would face criminal charges simply for performing an in vitro procedure. After all, many fertilized eggs simply cease cell division — and are no longer viable — before freezing or transfer. Others aren’t viable after they have been thawed. Still others fail to implant in the uterus. Collura’s organization imagines a number of bizarre legal scenarios: Could a doctor face a murder charge if an embryo didn’t survive the petri dish? Would a woman with a history of miscarriages be denied fertility treatments on the grounds that she posed a threat to her own embryos?

SO interesting, and yet another example of the pain and hardship IF patients have to go through, not only through the invasiveness and the cost of the procedures, but also because of the decisions that we have to make that NO ONE else has to worry about.  That phrase “ignorance is bliss” has never rung so true…



  1. Myndi said,

    A topic near and dear to my heart. IVF #1 was successful for us. So successful that we’re not only pregnant…but we have 7 embabies on ice. We plan to have more children after this one, so it’s comforting to know that we have so many more “chances” for the future. With about a 40% success rate for FET, we could expect maybe 3 in total to take, and we’re prepared and excited at the prospect of having a large family.

    But what if we put in 2 next time, and they take? What if that happens a 2nd time? We’d be left with 3 frosties…and we’re not sure we want 8 kids! I mean, that’s a lot to handle. And if we decide to stop, what do we do with the 3 we didn’t transfer?

    Based on stats alone, we’ll likely have to use all 7 to get just the few more children we want. In fact, we’ll be lucky to get one or two more children out of those 7 bembryos. But if, by some miracle, we broke the odds…what would we do with the remaining embryos if we wanted no more children? It’s a hard call. I’m not against donating them for research, but I feel…attached…to them. And for that same reason, it’s hard to imagine donating them to another couple and having our children’s siblings, our children, walking around not a part of our family. Fortunately, we don’t have to make up our minds anytime soon. But it sure is a doozy of a decision! Still, we count ourselves extremely fortunate to be in this position…so as far as problems go, it’s a good one to have. 🙂

  2. Ashley said,

    I think we will most likely end up giving it to someone else. It would be weird to think about a biological child roaming the world away from us, but after all we’ve been through, if we could give someone else the chance to experience this, we definitely would. Our remaining embie is a day 6 fully expanded blast with a 25 year old egg so I think it would be good for someone. BUT . . maybe it would be good for us?? I don’t know about the future. Although I can’t imagine more than 2 children and don’t think it’s necessary to have more, who knows how I will feel? Also, I hate that embryo adoption is so expensive. I just want to give it to someone.

    I don’t know if we can really think about that right now. DH doesn’t want to use and for sure thinks someone else should have it, but he might change his mind! We’ll see . . . .

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