The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) reports that in the United States almost 4% of nearly 400,000 cryopreserved stored embryos have been labeled “abandoned”1 leaving fertility centers asking, “what to do next?”.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the most common form of assisted reproductive technology by which a woman’s eggs are extracted from her ovaries, united with sperm from a partner or donor, and the resulting embryos are transferred to the uterus for implantation. Any healthy embryos not used in the initial transfer can be cryopreserved for future treatment. This is beneficial for families who are hoping to have more than one child. Additional embryos also provide a contingency plan should the original cycle not result in pregnancy or result in miscarriage.
Couples or individuals undergoing IVF who wish to have additional embryos cryopreserved sign legal consents which outline their wishes regarding future disposition. In some cases, however, some couples or individuals may not state their wishes and cannot be contacted to make their wishes known, posing a problem for the IVF center and/or storage facility. ASRM suggests it is ethically acceptable for a program or facility to consider embryos to have been abandoned if at least 5 years have passed since contact with an individual or couple, diligent efforts have been made to contact the individual or couple, and no written instructions from the couple exist concerning disposition. Reasons for this can include intentional abandonment, patient(s) death, or loss of contact with the patient.2
“We don’t perceive that there is an abandoned embryo problem at Brown Fertility, less than 1% of our patients have abandoned embryos. With our thorough consenting process couples can donate to others with a great majority of our patients choosing to donate. At Brown Fertility, we are a Christian based organization that treats all patients with different faiths and beliefs and sincerely respect the sanctity of life”, stated Dr. Samuel Brown.
Embryo disposition by definition is the process for deciding on the future use of embryos fertilized but not immediately transferred. Brown Fertility’s embryo donation program is one course of action a couple can make with regards to disposition and consists of donated embryos from our previous patients who have undergone IVF and have completed their family but have cryopreserved embryos that they have chosen to donate.
These embryos have been previously screened when the donating couple went through the IVF process. Intended recipients are provided with demographic information from the donating couple including age, ethnicity, height, weight, hair and eye color, medical and family history. The intended recipient is required to complete a psychological evaluation prior to acquiring the embryos and the donation process is anonymous for both the donating couple and intended recipient. We encourage our patients to donate their embryos to our donation program as this can ultimately bring the miracle of conceiving to another family who may not have any other option.
While many fertility clinics nationwide struggle with a growing number of abandoned embryos, Brown Fertility continues to see a decrease of abandoned embryos year after year. Our priority is to educate patients on their options for customized treatments and eliminate any areas in question. Patients are given the time to read, review and select their embryo disposition through our IVF consent process. Patients of Brown Fertility are an extension of our family and it is our commitment to ensure future fertility is safeguarded.