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What Should I Do With My Extra Embryos?

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Updated November 13, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Should I Do With My Extra Embryos?
Answer:

When undergoing IVF, a common fertility treatment, eggs are removed from a woman’s body and fertilized with sperm in the laboratory. Formed embryos, usually two and sometimes three, are transferred back into the woman’s uterus where they will hopefully implant and cause a pregnancy. If multiple embryos are formed, the clinic will need direction from you as to what to do with those embryos.

When you make the decision to go through an IVF cycle, your clinic will likely ask you if you want to freeze extra embryos or dispose of them. While the cost of freezing embryos (most likely a one time freezing fee and regular monthly or annual payments) is not usually covered by insurance, it is much less expensive then repeating a fresh IVF cycle. Should the cycle not work, your physician can thaw the embryos and transfer them at a later date. If you do get pregnant and want more children later on, you won’t need to go through a full IVF cycle, as the embryos can simply be thawed and transferred. Also, the eggs and resulting embryos were formed when you were younger – this can be significant if you are attempting to get pregnant later in life.

If you decide to freeze the embryos, you and your partner will also need to make a decision regarding what to do with those embryos should something happen to you or your partner. Though morbid, this is very important. You will usually have the option of giving those embryos to your partner or other person, or donating the embryos back to the clinic, to research or other infertile couples to attempt a pregnancy. If your clinic doesn’t give you those options, make sure to ask, especially if the disposition of those embryos is important to you.

You also have the option of including your preferences in your will. Make sure to consult an attorney and give a copy of the will to your clinic and other loved ones to make sure that your wishes will be honored should something happen to you.

Keep in mind that should you divorce or separate, the embryos will likely be part of the separation agreement. Some clinics will have you sign off on your decision before undergoing the cycle in the event, however unlikely it may be, that your relationship ends.

If you aren’t ready to make a decision on the spot, don’t feel pressured into signing the consent form. Ask the nurse or doctor if you can have some time for the two of you to have a discussion before making a decision. You can also check to see what their policy is regarding what happens if you change your mind down the road.

Remember that whatever you decide has to be okay with both of you as the decision concerns your potential children. Most clinics have a psychologist who specializes in reproductive issues and many even require a visit with her before you start an IVF cycle. If this visit isn’t required, or you have further questions check with the staff to set up an appointment – she can be very helpful in discussing some of the issues associated with discarding your embryos or leaving them with friends and family.

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