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’
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sorry if this is a duplicate, apparently my efforts this morning to comment via phone were unsuccessful!
We had a long study of this in ethics class focusing mostly on the struggle to decided v the capitalist system of taking advantage by increasing long term storage prices. The field of ethics will never run out of things to talk about.
I suppose they’ll never run out of things to talk about because life and the living of it in an ethical way is full of complexities. 🙂
I read a long study on this in ethics. Unfortunately indefinite storage prices are getting extreemly high because people can’t let go and some companies are taking advantage. So many nuances in this situation
Absolutely! If I get my desired amount of children and feel my family is complete, and we have leftover embryos, I plan to donate them.
We have four frozen embryos (our full genetic embryos), and would like to have one more child. So it is possible we will have as many as three (or as few as zero) left when our family is complete. Right now it is easy for me to say that we would donate them to another couple, but I think it may be a harder decision to make when the time actually comes. I think our clinic only does anonymous donation, which is another aspect to consider (we would not have contact with the recipient family).
Sarah T., would it be easier to donate if it was anonymous or easier to donate if you knew something about the family and/or could exchange info?
I think I would want to know something about the family. I don’t think I would want visits or anything like that, but just knowing something about them would give me peace of mind. I would also want to know that if the child/children born from our embryos wanted to meet us one day, they would have that opportunity.
Thanks Sarah T. I’ve talked with quite a number of people facing this decision and my unscientific assessment is that most want to know that the family receiving their embryos has been vetted–that they are good people who are going to try to be good parents.
If I was ever in a position to have excess embryos, I’d do it in a second. Unfortunately we struggle to get enough each cycle to transfer two for me