What to Do withThose Leftover Embryos

A Worthy Idea

The latest survey shows that most patients undergoing fertility treatments would be happy to give their leftover embryos for stem cell research. They also think that selling leftover embryos to other childless couples is a worthy idea.

Researchers at a large university hospital's fertility center in Illinois surveyed 1,350 women diagnosed with infertility. The survey consisted of 24 questions relating to obstetric and infertility history and patient demographics. The participants also answered questions about the use of leftover embryos and were asked to express their opinions on their use in stem cell research and whether the excess embryos should be sold to others.

The latest assisted reproductive technology has brought with it a situation in which extra embryos are created along with the need to freeze them using cryopreservation techniques. In 2002, it was estimated that 396, 526 embryos were being stored across the U.S. in various fertility clinics. At present, the leftovers may be used in future pregnancy attempts by the couple who produced them; donated to other couples, agencies, or researchers; or they may be discarded.

Infertility and Altruism

Dr. Tarun Jain, University of Illinois at Chicago assistant professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, clinical IVF director, and lead author of the study believes that infertility patients should be educated as to their rights and options relating to those leftover embryos. As if to prove his contentions, when asked if leftover embryos should be used for stem cell research, a whopping 73% of the 636 respondents who answered this question with surety, voted yes. "Infertility patients, in general, are altruistic, and it makes sense that they would try to advance medicine and help others," said Jain.

Caucasians were more likely to approve of using the leftovers for stem cell research than were African Americans or Hispanics. Those participants under the age of 30, of fewer means, single, and Protestant, were less likely to agree that the leftover embryos should be used for such research.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have ruled that the sale of leftover embryos is unethical, though more and more infertile patients are asking to buy them—this is a more cost-effective choice than going the way of an egg donor, and lots of patients can't conceive with their own eggs.

A full 56% of 588 respondents who stated a definite opinion voted that the sale of these leftovers should be allowed for such couples. Hispanics participants in the survey didn't approve of the sale of embryos, but all the East Indians thought this to be a worthy practice. Women who had never conceived tended not to approve the sale of leftover embryos.

The authors claim their survey to be the first to examine the opinions of the general infertile public in relation to the use of their leftover embryos. The survey also gave researchers the ability to examine the results in the light of the demographics and reproductive history of this representative sample. Jain and co-author Stacey Missmer of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School conclude that, "Given the potential for a significant increase in the commoditizing of spare embryos, medical societies and policy makers may need to pay close attention to this controversial area."


Login to comment

Post a comment