As we dive into our topic, we want to recognize that this is a charged topic, particularly in the current political climate. Wherever you are on your family building journey, deciding what to do with your embryos can be incredibly triggering. Our aim is to provide a balanced overview of the available options, but want to emphasize that there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s a very personal and intimate decision.

Each option comes with its own emotional weight and considerations, and although people initially beginning fertility treatment may be asked about their preferences, not many anticipate having too many viable embryos. The decision-making process is deeply personal and can evolve over time, but it is important to note that any decisions made about remaining embryos require the consent of all individuals involved in the creation of the embryos and that available options can also depend on the individual clinic or long-term storage facility where the embryos are located.

Embryo Donation

Embryo donation can be split into two major categories, donation to intended parents for reproductive purposes and donation to science for research purposes. When choosing to donate to a research institution or laboratories for scientific study, some find comfort in the thought that their embryo(s) can provide insight into embryonic development, genetic disorders, and help advance medical treatments and technologies. 

Embryo donation for reproductive purposes involves the transfer of embryos from one family to another to assist with their family building, either directly or through a matching organization. The donating individual or couple relinquishes any parental rights or responsibilities associated with the embryos, and the receiving party assumes responsibility for the embryos and any resulting pregnancies. It is important to note when considering embryo donation, either as a donor or recipient, that while the term “embryo adoption” is sometimes used to mean embryo donation, is inaccurate and can have unintended legal consequences (ASRM, 2023). 

A crucial step in the embryo donation process is determining the type of relationship desired among the donors, the intended parents and any resulting child. Given the availability of at-home DNA testing, the concept of full anonymity when it comes to donor conception is no longer a realistic expectation. The type of potential relationship and level of contact that both donor and recipient families are comfortable with will dictate many aspects of the agreement and the matching process.

Embryo Disposition

Embryo disposition refers to the process of thawing and discarding stored embryos once it has determined that other options or continued storage, are not feasible or desired. While the procedure may differ slightly, each clinic or long-term storage facility has protocol to be followed when disposal has been requested, including signed consents and frequently a waiting period to allow for last minute changes to the decision. Families who have particular wishes around the process can discuss various options with their clinic or facility staff, including the potential of taking embryos home to honor in whatever way feels best to them.

Compassionate Transfer

Compassionate transfer of embryos involves intentionally transferring an embryo or embryos with the understanding that the likelihood of achieving a successful pregnancy is low due to various factors such as age at time of transfer, timing of transfer, etc. It’s important for people considering this option to discuss their expectations and concerns with their healthcare provider to ensure they have a clear understanding of all potential outcomes and implications of this path.

Continued Storage

Lastly, continued storage can’t be discounted as an option when it is financially feasible. This decision is complex and if conversations around remaining embryos prove to be too challenging or unproductive, extending the timeline can offer the opportunity to further explore all available options, their own feelings around the situation, and make informed, measured decisions about the next step in the journey.

Support and Resources

Navigating the complexities of remaining embryo decision-making can be daunting and we encourage individuals to explore all options and consider what feels right for them. However individual this process is, we know that being surrounded by a supportive, nonjudgemental community can make this challenging time a bit easier so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

For a more in depth discussion around the various options and the decision-making process itself, we invite you to watch past Conference session, Deciding About Remaining Embryos with Kristen Darcy and Janene Oleaga.

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