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Unused Embryo Dilemma

December 8, 2008

Currently there are about 500,000 frozen, stored embryos in the United States. The debate about what to do with a frozen embryo after a couple is finished having children may be more complicated than it appears.

In the largest study of its kind, 1,000 fertility patients shed light on the dilemmas couples face as they decide what to do with unused frozen embryos. Most people studied felt responsible for the leftover embryos, but more than half were opposed to implanting the embryos into anyone else.

“Parents care very much about what happens to their embryos, but that doesn’t mean they want them to become children. Our study shows that many feel they have to do what they can to prevent their embryo from becoming a child,” study author Anne Drapkin Lyerly, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist and bioethicist at Duke, was quoted as saying.

Fresh embryos are used in more than 80 percent of fertility treatment cycles, but most patients also chose to freeze some of their embryos to use as backup. Previous studies have found once childbearing is complete, 70 percent of couples with frozen embryos put off making a decision about what to do with them for at least five years, while continuing to pay storage fees. The new study reveals, 20 percent of couples with frozen embryos indicate they’re likely to keep their embryos frozen “forever.”

During the study, researchers presented couples with four options for what to do with unused frozen embryos: thawing and discarding, reproductive donation, indefinite freezing and donation for research. The majority of couples were unlikely to choose any option besides donation for research.

There were two other options, not usually offered, 20 percent of patients felt were acceptable: placement of embryos in the woman’s body during an unfertile time and performing a ritual disposal ceremony.

SOURCE: Fertility & Sterility, 2008

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