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    Deciding What to Do With Unused Embryos

    Dawn Davenport


    What Options Do you have for Disposing of Unused Frozen Embryos

    I know that the last thing many people at the beginning of their infertility struggles ever think about is the possibility of having extra frozen embryos remaining after they finish treatment. Thinking about this possibility when you are busy praying that you will have any embryos at all, to say nothing of embryos left over when you finish treatment may feel like tempting fate. You should be so lucky to face such a “problem”, right?

    I have the luxury of talking with people who have been just so “lucky”. For some the decision of what to do with their extra frozen embryos is not a big deal at all, but others are surprised by how hard this decision becomes. I think everyone involved—doctors and patients—should consider their options at the beginning, even if you later change your mind.

    I learn best by example and I assume I’m not alone, so Creating a Family is recruiting folks who have faced this decision and will blog about it. If you’d rather remain anonymous, that’s OK too. Here’s the story of Paige, over at Baby Dust Diaries, and how she changed her mind after she had children from the same batch of embryos.


    When I had my oocyte (egg) retrieval back in 2008 they harvested 29 eggs. Of those 17 fertilized. Of those 12 arrested by day 3 or 5 (stopped growing). That left me with 5. We transferred 2 fresh on day 3 – one was Aellyn. Asher and Boston were both frozen on that same day as 3-day embryos. They grew the remaining embryos to day 5 to see if we had any strong ones. We had one make it to blastocyst which was then frozen on day 5. In 2010 we thawed Asher and Boston, grew them to blastocyst (day 5) and transferred them. We have one remaining embryo in cryopreservation.

    Having extra embryos is common in IVF. …Remember a “fresh” (egg retrieval) cycle is expensive and very hard on a woman’s body. Clinics want to get enough good embryos to freeze some. A frozen embryo transfer (like with my twins) is much easier and much cheaper than going through a full, fresh cycle again. …My point: freezing isn’t a bad thing. It can be a very life-giving technology.

    The problem? There are often left over embryos.

    Your Options for What to do with Your Extra Embryos

    Couples have 4 choices when it comes to these extra embryos.

    1. Have a bigger family than you planned and transfer them anyway. I’ll talk about this below.

    2. Destroy the embryos – they are thawed and discarded as biowaste.

    I include in this category a bizarre practice of some “pro-life” people where they intentionally transfer embryos in a non-fertile stage of a woman’s cycle. This is somehow seen as providing more “dignity” than discarding as biowaste. I feel this is absurd. And embryo implanted in a uterus without a lining has no chance of life. Yes, God creates life but he does it through the reproductive cycle he created. DUH. Using a uterus as a garbage can is just all kinds of stupid. Sorry. I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

    3. Donate them to science.

    Here they are also destroyed (they aren’t grown into some science fiction lab experiment) during use. Uses include training new embryologists and geneticists and stem cell research done to cure diseases like cancer and Parkinson and injuries like spinal column regeneration.

    4. Donate them to another couple.

    Sometimes this is called Embryo Adoption because it can be open or closed but it is not legally an adoption, but a tissue transfer like sperm or egg donation. The embryos are thawed and transferred to another couple hoping to achieve pregnancy. It is illegal in the US to pay for an embryo (or a live child) but sometimes donors are compensated for 1 year of storage costs. There are for-profit donor/recipient matching sites, private arrangements, and most clinics have a donation program.

    …I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that cryopreservation costs the couple money each year. My clinic is under $500 but some are as high as $2000 per year.

    Making the Decision

    Trigger Warning: If you are currently struggling through infertility you may want to stop here. I’m going to “complain” about the “agonizing” decision of what to do with my “extra” embryos after having 3 live children. Yeah. I would have wanted to stab myself for saying that just a few short years ago too.

    Our original plan was embryo donation/adoption. We liked the idea of helping another couple struggling as we were through infertility. We imagined having 6 or more extra embryos which would be impossible for us to continue family building with that many. Donation seemed like a wonderful option for us.

    We never imagined two things: One, that we’d be 3 for 4 with IVF! I’ve transferred 4 embryos and had 3 children. That’s just…beyond luck. An embarrassment of riches. I was in tears when we only had 3 frozen because I thought it drastically limited the chance we’d have siblings. Oh to have my problems, right? Secondly, we now have only one frozen embryo.

    How is that a problem? Well, first off, if you are looking for embryo donors you want at least two embryos. The cost alone makes adopting one embryo kind of silly. I’ve found that the general consensus is that people would not want my one embryo.

    More importantly is how I feel about embryos. I think this is personal but, for me, those embryos are my children. I believe life starts at conception. That’s my baby girl in there (no, we don’t know the gender but I hate “it”) and I could never just destroy her, even for science. It feels like a part of my family. I guess if I had 15 embryos I’d feel less specifically attached but I don’t. I have one. One little potential-baby. One brother or sister to Aellyn, Asher, and Boston. I don’t know if God intends us to have a fourth child (and let’s face it to be 4 for 5 is just beyond imagining) but if he does I’m not going to turn away and not try to bring her home.

    My biggest issue is the cost. We are on a tight budget now and the embryo transfer would cost $2000. If we don’t get pregnant I can think of lots of other uses for that money! Using it for the kids I have now. But I have to give her a chance at life. If it’s not meant to be then ok but I can’t not try.


    What do you plan to do with your extra embryos if you have them? What option would feel best for you? While Paige didn’t have much use for “compassionate transfer” others might not agree. Check out this Creating a Family show on various thawing and discarding options, including compassionate transfer and thawing ceremonies.

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    P. S. If you are in the process of deciding and need resources to help, consider these from the friendly folks here at Creating a Family:

    Check out Paige’s wonderful blog on infertility and natural living, Baby Dust Diaries. Her recipe for homemade mayo is to die for.

    Image credit: Mike

    06/03/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 15 Comments

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    15 Responses to Deciding What to Do With Unused Embryos

    1. Amy says:

      Thank you so much for this. We are making a decision in the coming weeks our 2 “frozen babies”….heart wrenching to say the least.

    2. Swen says:

      Thank you for this. I don’t think any of us in this position ever thought we’d be here or thought how hard this decision really is!

    3. Lucy says:

      As of now, I have two children, and four frozen embryos. Separated from their
      dad,which makes things more complex. I am 53 and despite my age and
      not having a lot of money, I am considering transferring them. It is a dilemma.
      I feel responsible for them and do not want to abandon them, whether by discarding
      them, donating them to science or other parent. I feel I need to complete this whole
      process, and do it respectfully. It has taken so many years, money, fraught emotions,
      hard decisions, that I don t want to close this chapter lightly.
      May God show me the way, for the best of everyone.
      Best wishes to those who are agonising over this difficult decision and have a
      reonsibility to honour.

    4. Catherine Tucker says:

      Thanks Paige for sharing your story.

      Dawn: I’m typically hearing that there are way more prospective parents than available embryos. In fact, even clinics with very active embryo donation practices, such as EDI in Florida, have to unfortunately turn away some patients. I also have never heard of a clinic with an oversupply of available embryos, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the situation is different in 5-10 years given the rapid advancements in technologies that allow for more viable embryos to be created and frozen per IVF cycle as well as the increased availability of donor egg cycles. Your readers might also find informative my blog post that discusses some of the things I advise my clients to think about when making these kinds of decisions: http://tuckerlegal.com/leftover-embryos/

      • Catherine, thanks for the great blog! I haven’t heard of a clinic that has excess embryos, but I have heard from a few adoption agencies with embryo donation programs that they have plenty of embryos. Not sure how universal that is.

    5. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      I hear varying reports on whether there is an adequate supply of embryos or whether they are scarce. Some clinics and agencies I speak with say they have a balance between embryos and intended parents, while others say they are actively recruiting families to donate embryos. I have not heard of anyplace that has many more embryos than they have people who want them. What is everyone else hearing?

    6. Whole Child says:

      I am a nanny for twins conceived through IVF. Their parents have 3 embroys left, but are not sure that they want more kids. I was talking with Dad about embryo adoption and he doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of his genetic children “out there” for someone else to raise. He feels responsible. It is a tough call. I have no judgment either way b/c I have seen families fall apart b/c they had kids they couldn’t care for…but I’ve seen the other side of people desperate for kids. I don’t think embryo’s are in such high demand that people are not becoming parents b/c they can’t find the embryo to implant, but I don’t know the exact numbers.

    7. Anonymous says:

      in the current environment, embryos for donation are scarce.If they make it to blastocyst, they will be in high demand even if only single embryo.

    8. M says:

      Paige, thanks for sharing your perspective, and good luck with your transfer!

      I’m interested in embryo adoption and surprised to read that there’s little interest in adopting just one. Of course there are significant costs involved, but there can also be issues with carrying and raising multiples. Being single makes me more cautious about those issues. This post gives me hope that a single-embryo match might be out there somewhere.

      • Dawn Dawn says:

        M, you raise a really good point. Many people are wanting a couple of embryos (often frozen in the same straw) to allow for the fact that some might not survive the thaw or might not grow to day 5 blastocyst (if that is the protocol being followed). However, that might increase the odds for someone who is willing to take the “risk” with just one. Another thing that increases the odds of getting embryos for a donation is to accept those embryos that are not rated quite as high. Again, some people aren’t willing to run that risk. I wish you great luck.

    9. Lucky says:

      I disagree that embryos are scarce. I know SEVERAL people that posted recently that they were searching for embryos and found them within a month. Also, with the traditional slow freezing, they often do not survive thaw. My friend had 12 donated, and the first two did not survive. However, vitrification is a different story. Successful thaw is something like 90%.

      • Dawn Dawn says:

        Lucky, you’re right that vitrification has completely changed the landscape of cyropreservation. I’m curious about where the people found their embryos quickly. Was it at an agency or a clinic?

    10. Thanks for reposting! I hope it gets a dialog started!

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