A solution for abandoned embryos

An instructive article “What happens to leftover embryos?” asks, “What happens to ‘leftover’ fertilized embryos after a couple has a successful pregnancy using fertility treatments?” 

The article continues:

Many couples who’ve struggled with infertility, turn to in vitro fertilization. That means thousands of fertilized embryos are being stored in labs across the country, as well as St Louis.

Dr. Molina Dayal with the Sher Fertility Institute in Creve Coeur says embryos can be stored indefinitely. Right now there are no definitive laws on the books when it comes to abandoned embryos. Dr. Dayal believes at some point, this will need to change. “As IVF treatment becomes more prevalent we’re going to have to have very strict, clear guidelines in terms of what we need to do when it comes to these embryos,” Dayal says.

Dr. Dayal adds that embryos are generally considered “abandoned” after about seven years. The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says during that time, there must be “reasonable attempts” to contact an individual/couple. After that time, the committee says an institution can consider donation (to research or another couple), or possible disposal.

My friend, Jeffrey Keenan, MD, who is the Medical Director for the National Embryo Donation Center writes, “This news story brings up several areas of concern in reproductive medicine in the U.S.” He continues:

First, there are more than 600,000 frozen embryos in this country, and the number is growing on a daily basis. Despite excellent results with the use of frozen eggs (and perhaps fewer complications), few clinics are offering this or using it on a regular basis for their patients. I have found that a significant number of patients will choose this when presented with the proper information.

Next, patients receiving these services are, in general, inadequately counseled about the likelihood that they will have remaining (we don’t use the term ‘leftover’) embryos and, more importantly, what they can do to minimize this potential problem.

There are currently almost no federal laws restricting the practice of assisted reproductive technology in the U.S., making us almost unique among developed countries, and also leaving the profession ripe for abuse. In fact, there are physicians/clinics which are creating ‘designer embryos’ from sperm and egg donor catalogs.

Much more could be said, but in reproductive medicine, as in other specialties, there seems to have been a slow decay in what the profession views as the sanctity and value of human life, at whatever stage it exists. Why has there not been an outcry from the major medical organizations on the recent well-documented abuses at Planned Parenthood?

We have become apathetic, complacent and, in many cases, complicit. I believe it is up to us as Christian healthcare professionals to make the argument for protection of life on biblical and moral grounds rather than medical ones.

Medical reasoning alone often does not work, and I believe we need to be seen as steadfast, trustworthy physicians with the integrity and sound judgment to match our clinical skills. I believe this will draw patients to us, and then it is our further obligation to share our witness with them as appropriate and as we are able.

This approach has worked wonderfully well at the National Embryo Donation Center. In fact, we are in the process of arranging a celebration of our 500th birth from donated embryos. Embryo adoption is clearly a life-honoring and valuable solution to the problems so many of our patients are facing.

Look for an in-depth look at the National Embryo Donation Center as they celebrate their 500th birth in the fall edition of Today’s Christian Doctor, available in September at www.cmda.org/tcd.


© Copyright WLL, INC. 2015. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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