Would you donate your embryos?

Infertility is overwhelming and infertility treatment can become all-consuming. Most patients survive by focusing on the present and the next step down the road. It’s darn near impossible to look ahead a couple of months, much less a couple of years.

When you start IVF, the goal for most people is to get as many embryos as possible so that they have frozen embryos to fall back on in case they don’t get pregnant or for future siblings if they conceive. Embryos can freeze indefinitely and the cost to transfer a frozen embryo is significantly less expensive than the cost of an IVF cycle. Keep in mind that health insurance seldom covers the cost, so every penny counts. Few people consider the possibility of having embryos left over after they finish.

To think that hopeful and that far down the line almost seems to tempt fate.

As pregnancy rates increase for fertility treatment and more patients and doctors are opting to transfer only one embryo to reduce the risk of multiples, more people are finding themselves in the position of having embryos left over when they are finished family building. They must decide what to do with these embryos.

For some this is not a difficult decision, but for others it is agonizing. The New York Times Motherlode column recently addressed this issue with an essay by a couple that decided to donate their embryos to another couple.

Katherine and her husband “got lucky”: one round of IVF, two embryos transferred, two healthy babies born. They also had three 5-day embryos (blastocysts) frozen, but they knew their family was complete. What to do with these three embryos.

They had the following options:

  • Donate to another couple.
  • Thaw and discard.
  • Use them for try for another child even though they thought that their family was complete.
  • Donate to research. (This is not really a viable option at this time.)
  • Indefinite storage.

Katherine’s husband wanted to donate to another couple, but Katherine struggled with the idea of having her child or children being raised by another family.

Would I be able to handle the idea of having “my” child be raised by another family — without ever knowing a single thing about them?

But the more I thought about it, I began to realize that these wouldn’t be my children. They would have my DNA, but I won’t be the one who can’t stop staring at them the day they are born. I won’t be the one struggling to breastfeed them, or staying up with them all night when they are teething, or saving for their college education. While they might look like my husband and I, they will belong to their own parents.

It is fair to note that unlike Katherine and her husband, 50-75% of the embryos donated to another couple for family building were created through donor egg, donor sperm, or both. I think it is easier for couples that have received the gift of donated eggs or sperm to donate excess created embryos. I also think it is easier to donate when they are not your full genetic embryos.

What would you do if you had embryos left over after fertility treatment?


Image credit: Ángel Franco/The New York Times in the article referenced above: Donating Embryos, Not ‘Giving Up Babies’