For many infertility couples, in vitro fertilization (IVF) makes having a family possible. IVF is an emotionally fueled process, and many couples face ethical dilemmas along the way. After embryos are developed in the laboratory, not all are used during the IVF. Couples have found that donating the extra embryos is a rewarding experience.
Many couples who seek assistive reproductive technology (ART) treatment become pregnant after a 1-3 IVF cycles. An IVF cycle involves retrieving several eggs from the female partner and combining them in a petri dish with the male partner’s sperm. For some couples, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is used to fertilize the eggs.
After a short time, embryos develop in an incubator. These embryos are placed in the female’s uterus during the embryo transfer process. Many good quality embryos remain in the laboratory, and the fertility clinic will inquire if the couple wishes to have them destroyed, frozen for future use (cryopreservation), or donated to another couple.
Many couples do not have extra embryos remaining. Sometimes, all developed embryos are used in IVF cycles, so none remain. Many fresh embryos are frozen to preserve them immediately for future IVF cycles, should the first or second attempts fail. When building your family, the decision of what to do with remaining embryos is one of the most difficult choices to make.
Option #1: Donate Extra Embryos to Science
With the advancement of stem cell research, many couples now have the option of donating the extra embryos to science. For guidance, check with the embryologist at the fertility center. Some stem cell programs may not accept the embryos if they do not contain genetic material from both partners.
Option #2: Give another Couple the Gift of a Child
Much like adoption, another couple can receive your remaining embryos for IVF cycles. Couples often attempt pregnancy later in life, when female egg quality is poor or when male sperm counts are problematic. Many couples have family histories of problematic medical conditions and genetic traits, so using donated embryos is a wise choice. If you donate embryos, both the male and female partner must consider that the child may want to meet you later on down the road.
Option #3: Save them for Future Use
A recent study involved client decisions regarding extra embryos. Researchers found that 54% of couples were likely to save them for later use, another 21% would likely donate them for research, and 7% chose to give them to another couple. You may decide to attempt another pregnancy in 1-2 years, or may have trouble maintaining the current pregnancy. If you freeze the embryos, they can be thawed and used for future IVF cycles.
In the case of divorce, you should specify what should happen to the frozen embryos and how disposal should be handled. In case of death, you should stipulate what you wish to happen with the embryos. If no instructions are left with the facility, the clinic will likely thaw and dispose of the embryos.
Option #4: Thaw and Disregard Them
Many couples find this the toughest option. The ethical considerations regarding the embryos may pose religious and cultural issues. This is a person choice, and regardless of your decision, our staff will support you through it all. Your thoughts about this option may be different after you become pregnant.