Embryologist Rick Slifkin demonstrates fertilization techniques on a nonviable embryo at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, in New York.

Credit: Richard Drew/AP, File

Deciding The Fate Of Frozen Embryos

October 5, 2017

Many potential parents going through in vitro fertilization (IVF) struggle with a decision specific to the process and invisible to anyone who is not familiar with it: what do you do with your leftover frozen embryos?  

For anyone who has gone through IVF, there are three options you can choose from for how to handle your remaining frozen embryos. You can either donate them to research, have another child, or destroy them.

A recent article in Elle outlines these options and the ethical and personal implications choosing one over the other can have.

The article points to a 2005 study led by Robert Nachtigall, an OB-GYN, that called the decision “a significant and frequently unresolved issue for couples with stored frozen embryos.” Further, many parents form an emotional connection to these embryos, which prohibits them from deciding what to do. 

Art Caplan, the director of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, says that the real issue stems from IVF and storage facilities using the word embryo to describe what is actually being stored.

“If you look at a medical definition of what’s an embryo, it means implanted inside a woman's body, not just an embryo in a dish, but that it is implanted in the woman's body, thereby taking on the potential to become a fetus and a baby,” Caplan said during an interview with Boston Public Radio Wednesday.

Caplan suggests that calling them a pre-embryo rather than an embryo would alleviate the stress of deciding what to do with them.

“When It is still in the dish, it is a pre-embryo … it isn’t going to become anything unless you put it into an environment where it can grow,” Caplan said.

Click above to hear medical ethicist Art Caplan's interview in its entirety.


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