Tough decisions over extra frozen embryos

There are thousands of couples and individuals in the United States grappling with difficult choices regarding their stored genetic material. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 600,000 frozen embryos are stored nationwide, in addition to countless more cryo-preserved eggs and sperm.

The issue, highlighted in a Washington Post article, made for dramatic headlines recently as “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara was hit with a lawsuit by her ex-fiance, who wants custody of their two fertilized embryos to use for a potential pregnancy. But for most people who have used assisted reproductive technologies, the question of what to do with frozen eggs, sperm and embryos plays out in a much more private, if no less wrenching, manner.

Most couples never consider the fate of excess embryos when they start down the path of fertility medicine. Especially for childless pairs longing to conceive addressing that is not on the list of priorities. Many of them take a “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” approach.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approximates that over “600,000 frozen embryos are stored nationwide, in addition to countless more cryo-preserved eggs and sperm.” The Post adds that many couples do not “consider the fate of excess embryos,” noting a study conducted in 2005 and funded by the National Institutes of Health “found that of 58 couples with leftover embryos, 72 percent hadn’t decided what to do with them.”

At RPMG we have couples sign extensive informed consents that deal with how to deal with frozen embryos in all eventualities. Yet many couples cannot come to terms when it comes right down to it with how to dispose of embryos they never plan to use.

The options include, discarding, donating for research or donating to another couple. The most common choice: none of the above. And so the embryos remain in storage indefinitely and they continue to pay the storage charge. This is a testament to the difficulty of this decision.

Hopefully this problem will diminish somewhat as we are taking most embryos to blastocyst and many fewer are being frozen.

But as tpo a solution to the current plethora of embryos just sitting there; I don’t have one.

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