What happens to surplus frozen embryos?4th October 2010
Researchers have been investigating the fate of frozen human embryos 'left over' from in-vitro fertilisation, or IVF, programmes.
If the embryos were conceived with a donated egg, the couples they belong to are more likely to donate them to other infertile couples, than if the embryos were conceived with the woman's own eggs.
Many couples continue to store their embryos in case they desire future pregnancies, according to a recent study.
Writing in the journal Fertility and Sterility, authors Melanie Freeman and George Hill of the Nashville Fertility Center in Tennessee, said that the real problem was a lack of donated embryos, compared with the number of people willing to accept them.
Not many infertility clinics even offer donated embryos as a possibility to their clients.
Donated embryos currently have a pregnancy successs rate of between 42% and 50%, according to Nashville Fertility Center figures.
Couples using the centre's service are asked to state their wishes regarding the fate of their "extra" frozen embryos before undergoing IVF, Freeman and Hill said.
They are then asked a second time to provide consent a before their wishes are carried out.
Researchers looked at the records of 1,262 patients at the clinic who used their own eggs.
This group had preserved a total of 5,417 embryos.
A second group was studied made up of 272 couples who had conceived embryos made from donated eggs, and had preserved a total of 1,233 embryos.
Among the couples who conceived with their own eggs, 39% used the stored embryos and 35% decided to keep the embryos in storage.
Among the couples who used donated eggs, 40% used the embryos and 23% continued to store them.
And 21% of couples who used their own eggs donated them to infertile couples, 11% donated them to research, while 68% discarded them.
However, 56% of couples who conceived with donated eggs gave the embryos to other infertile couples, while 6% donated them for research, and 38% discarded them.
Freeman said the results were unsurprising, as the people using donated eggs had already had someone donate to them, and were more willing to do the same for others.
She said the donation of unused embryos was an excellent way of giving more infertile couples the chance to have a child.
She said further efforts should be made to educate couples about this possibility.
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