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What to do with your Remaining Embryos after You’ve completed Your Fertility Journey

Posted on June 21, 2016

When an individual or couple elects to undergo the process of fertilizing eggs for fertility treatment, such as standard in-vitro fertilization with their own eggs or from eggs of an egg donor, there comes a time when a decision needs to be made about what to do with the remaining embryos not used for further IVF treatments.

After conceiving a child of my own through egg donation I know firsthand how incredibly difficult this decision is. I ask myself every day, “How long am I going to pay the $600.00 annual storage fee for my remaining frozen embryos that I have.”  For me it’s such a difficult decision that I keep pushing it off to the back of my mind.  Eventually I know I will have to address this subject. The reason I say it’s a difficult decision is because after conceiving my child I truly have developed a bond with my embryos that is hard to break. I know in my heart that my embryos can benefit someone. Whether I ever decide to donate them to stem cell research which I know could possible help find a cure for many different cancers or possible help someone walk one day. Maybe one day I’ll cross paths with a wonderful person that could possible adopt them. I know in time I’ll come to a decision that will be right for me but, for know I’ll continue with my annual storage fee.

I think this is an important topic to discuss before embarking on a fertility journey with a psychologist through your IVF clinic. You can discuss with them the three different options available to you in regards to the disposition of your remaining embryos. You’ll be glad you did.

Yes, there are three options for frozen, fertilized eggs which are now embryos once they’re no longer needed for use. The first is simply to unfreeze them and dispose of them. An extension of this option includes something called a compassionate transfer, in which the embryos are implanted into the mother’s uterus at a time when pregnancy is highly unlikely, so that they are discarded naturally and humanely by the body.

The second is to donate unused embryos for stem-cell research. Similarly to the benefit of donating core blood, stem cells are extremely valuable to the medical and scientific communities and have the potential to significantly impact research and treatment for diseases and ailments affecting the brain, spinal cord, and other nerves, most notably Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. For individuals with ailing parents or who may have genetic markers that put them at a higher risk of developing these diseases, this option may serve as a way to give back to the medical community or to affect positive change for others who might be afflicted. Though controversial, laws regarding embryo donation for the purposes of medical research vary by state and is an option worthy of our consideration.

Finally, embryo donation or embryo adoption is a practice that had been gaining momentum in the United States since the mid-1980’s. Along the lines of sperm donation and egg donation, embryo donation involved gifting unused embryos to a childless couples or individual who would like to become pregnant. In most states, embryo donation is considered a property transfer, determining clear legal custody for the parents who end up carrying and birthing the donated embryos.  Donation can be handled anonymously through a fertility clinic such as Dr. Craig Sweet of www.dreamababy.com, but for those who wish, the process can also more closely mirror adoption, with families screening and choosing “adoptive” parents for receipt of their unused embryos. (Georgia, uniquely, offers the option of handling this exchange as an adoption, allowing parents who are the recipients of a donated embryo to take advantage of a federal tax adoption credit.)

Some individuals choose to engage in an open embryo adoption, in which they stay in contact with the adoptive family and are periodically updated about the resulting child. A few, like these two incredible Washington families, have been inspired by their act of embryo donation to raise their children as siblings in two different homes, forever tethering their families together in light of the treasured gift of embryo donation to an otherwise childless couple.

Considering what you’ll do with your unused embryos is an important part of the fertility process and is something to think about before beginning starting IVF or related treatment. Fortunately, there are many excellent resources in place to guide families through their options. A few helpful organization include the following:

  • The American Fertility Association
  • Resolve: The National Infertility Association
  • The National Embryo Donation Center
  • The American Society for Reproductive Medicine
  • The University of Michigan Stem-Cell Research Program
  • The Stanford School of Medicine
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