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Patients Debate What To Do With Embryos After Fertility Treatments, USA Today Reports

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Friday, February 02, 2007 | 0 comments

As the debate over human embryonic stem cell research intensifies, patients who have embryos leftover after undergoing fertility treatments face a choice of discarding them, giving them to other couples, paying an annual fee to store them or donating them to medical research, USA Today reports. Patients with frozen embryos are the only ones legally entitled to decide what to do with unused embryos, and federal funding restrictions on stem cell research and varying state laws and programs have made the decision more "complex" for patients, USA Today reports.

A 2003 RAND Corp. study estimated that there are about 400,000 frozen embryos stored at 450 fertility clinics nationwide, with 2.8% being designated for research and most the remaining saved for future fertility treatments. Some critics have said that if frozen embryos are donated to research, facilities that provide embryos to stem cell researchers will begin to encourage fertility clinics to produce more embryos for in vitro fertilization procedures that could later be donated to research.

Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and former executive director of the President's Council on Bioethics, said embryo banks might reduce pressure on patients to donate unused embryos because they "stand as a barrier between the researcher and the IVF clinic." Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said many fertility clinics do not mention embryo donation to their patients because of moral concerns or confusion about the laws surrounding donation.

Lucinda Veeck Godsen, director of embryology at the IVF clinic at Weill-Cornell Medical School, said that the clinic has "avoided" discussing donating embryos to stem cell research and that embryo storage is a "major problem" at the facility. Godsen said 54% of the clinic's patients have unused embryos destroyed, 43% donate them to research unrelated to stem cells and 3% donate them to infertile couples.

According to USA Today, some fertility doctors say as many as 10% of embryos are abandoned (Stone, USA Today, 1/30).




About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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