What To Do With Frozen Embryos?

Parenting magazine ran an incredible article about the difficult decision parents who conceived through IVF must make: What to do with the leftover embryos? As it turns out, most couples continue to pay the storage fee, hesitant to destroy the embryos or give them away.

From Parenting:

Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of embryos have accumulated in fertility clinics throughout the country, some awaiting transfer but many literally frozen in time as parents ask themselves questions few among us ever consider with such immediacy: When does life begin? What does “life” mean, anyway? In a recent survey of 58 couples, researchers from the University of California in San Francisco found that 72 percent were undecided about the fate of their stored embryos. In another study last year of more than 1,000 fertility patients from nine clinics, 20 percent of couples who wanted no more children said they planned or expected to keep their embryos frozen indefinitely. Couples have held on to embryos for five years or more, waiting on an epiphany that never comes. Nadya Suleman, the now-famous mother of octuplets, told NBC News that she had all eight of her embryos implanted because she couldn’t bear to dispose of any of them.

“When you’re pouring your money, your heart, and your soul into creating an embryo and creating a life, the last thing you want to think about is how you’re going to dispose of it,” says Anne Drapkin Lyerly, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center. Until the storage fee comes due. At that point, couples generally have to choose among four options:

Those four options, according to Parenting, is donating the embryos to other infertile couples, donating the embryos to medical research, thawing them without donating or postponing the decision by continuing to pay the storage fee. From this article, it sounds like three-quarters of the couples are paying the storage fee.

I know this is a very personal topic, but I was curious to hear from those of you who have had IVF — what did you do with the leftover embryos? How did you come to that decision?


11 thoughts on “What To Do With Frozen Embryos?

  1. embryo adoption

    i’ve had several friends consider this for down the road if they have fertility issues.  it’s a lot cheaper than going through the process of creating your own embryo, and if my friend is correct it’s even more inexpensive than adoption.

    one woman i know really wants the pregnancy experience even if the child is not biologically hers.  but overall i don’t know how popular embryo adoption is.

    • Wow

      Thanks to all of you for sharing.  And Cecily I found your blog really interesting, thought provoking, and well written.  I’ll have to start reading :-)

    • I enjoyed reading your blog post

      and I enjoyed reading the comments as well.  I appreciate you explaining the thought process behind your donation, as well as the range of emotions that came with it and around the decision.

      And, slightly OT, your daughter has similarities to my older daughter, who also likes to come in to the bedroom at ungodly morning hours and sing, act, dance (and do kung fu)!

    • Thank you

      for donating your embryos.  You have opened a door of hope for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  I think you are a hero.

  2. A more difficult decision than I’d anticipated

    I’ve always been a committed pro-choice person.  But I have to admit that from the first time I saw the ultrasound with the little pulsating dot that became my son — who we had through IVF — I’ve had to admit that while I still believe that a blastocyst is not a live human being deserving of the same consideration as the rest of us, it’s something.  It’s not nothing.

    I’m still pro-choice, and god help any legislator who tried to take this decision away from my wife and me, but when it came time to decide whether to renew our embryo storage contract after we’d decided we didn’t want any more children, we had to take a few days to think about it.  I even slept on the idea of donating the embryoes to other couples who weren’t as lucky as we were.

    Ultimately, I couldn’t bear the thought of helping to actually  bring into the world children that I wouldn’t raise, love, and be responsible for. We chose to donate the embryoes for whatever research purposes were appropriate.

    I still feel a twinge thinking about it, and though I know we did the right thing, I still think about that pulsating dot and know that it wasn’t just turning off a light.  

    • Thanks for sharing

      your feelings.  It is great to have your perspective.  I also think that you have given a gift to the wider world by allowing your embryos to be used for research.  As scientists get closer to a cure for diabetes or Parkinson’s, etc., you should feel that you and your wife were a part of that effort.  Thank you.

      In my mind, there is a difference between the embryo in the Petri dish and the same embryo implanted in the uterus.  Since as many as half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant, I don’t feel that the embryo itself has special status.  Of course, that is easy to say as a woman who has never had an unintended pregnancy and quickly conceived and carried to term when I was ready to become pregnant.  It is pretty easy to have clinical detachment when biology and fate have treated you gently.

  3. No leftovers

    My partner and I did IVF, but we didn’t have enough viable embryos left over (from either of our two attempts) to freeze any. Just a caution that it sometimes turns out that way.

  4. donate

    The clinic that we went to has their clients make these decisions before they start treatment.  The paperwork outlined what would happened in the event we died, split up, had left over embryos after we were done, etc.    In all cases, we choose to donate to research.  Like simonpaul we couldn’t bear the thought of someone else raising a child that was biologically ours.  To us discarding seemed wasteful when some good could come from the research.

    In the end though… we didn’t have any embryos left.

    • Too bad

      all clinics don’t do this.  It sounds like you were dealing with a really good clinic that put a lot of thought into the entire process.

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