Options for Unused Embryos
When couples pursue IVF treatment, their focus is on creating viable embryos that successfully implant to become healthy, full-term babies. Thoughts about leftover embryos may only briefly cross their minds. Once their family is complete, families need to decide what to do with the leftover embryos – and this can be a challenging decision to make.
The sooner you begin contemplating what to do with extra embryos, the more confident you will be when it’s time to make that decision. As with many aspects of infertility – and the fertility treatment – journey, we recommend seeking emotional support from a counselor who specializes in fertility.
A licensed professional who understands the ins-and-outs of the fertility journey will help you process the myriad of options, considerations and emotions that come up as you determine which route is best for you. Here are some of the most common options for extra embryos:
Have a conversation with your fertility clinic
Different clinics have different policies about leftover embryos, so speak with yours about their preferences and/or restrictions. Ideally, this conversation would happen before you pursue IVF, as it may affect which fertility clinic you decide to use.
Continue Storing Them Just in Case
It’s easy to feel you’re done building your family because the first few years of parenting are some of the most intense. This is especially true for couples who have multiples or who have their children close together in succession.
However, as with a vasectomy or tubal ligation, it’s good to be 100% sure you are done having children before utilizing another option for your unused embryos. If you or your partner aren’t solid in your decision, it’s best to continue storing the embryos until you have no doubts.
Donate them to another couple
One of the most exciting developments in the realm of “what do to with leftover frozen embryos” is the ability to donate them. Your embryo donation means the ability for individuals or couples, who aren’t able to create viable embryos, of their own to experience the joy of pregnancy and birth. This option is also referred to as embryo adoption, and there are a range of paths you can take.
There are completely closed adoptions, completely open adoptions, or you’re welcome to keep your identity available if any children born from your embryos chooses to contact you later. All of these, and any other concerns, are determined between you and prospective recipients before any legally binding decisions regarding embryo donation/adoption takes place.
Embryo adoptions are typically handled by agencies, just as a traditional adoption would be, to ensure everything is handled correctly and with respect to state and federal laws.
Donate the embryos to science
Note that embryos donated to science are never allowed to be developed any further, or transferred into a uterus to be fully developed. Rather, the embryos are only used as is for medical research, which means they are destroyed as per the research process. This is often an option for those who aren’t willing to donate their embryos but want to know their embryos could yield critical information that could save lives in the future.
Thaw your embryos and…
The final option is to thaw the embryos. In this case, there are three, main options:
- Have the embryos transferred into your womb at a time in your cycle when you know they can’t implant. They will simply be absorbed back into your body. This method is called, “compassionate transfer.”
- You receive the embryos from the clinic and hold a ceremony or ritual of some sort with family, friends, as a couple – however you see fit. After which, you can bury the embryos in honor of the role they played in helping you build your family.
- You let the clinic know that you will no longer store your embryos and that you give them permission to thaw and dispose of the embryos.
Our advice is to work with a fertility clinic that is willing – and legally able – to comply with your wishes when you’re ready to decide the best method of handling your unused embryos. Contact RRC to learn more about our patients’ options.
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RRC has over 200 years of combined experience. As a leading reproductive health, infertility, and in-vitro fertilization (or IVF) center based in Kansas City, we're proud to have the highest level of expertise available to our patients.