What Are My Options Regarding Embryo Disposition?

What Are My Options Regarding Embryo Disposition?

September 30, 2011

Embryo freezing is a routine part of the IVF process.  Approximately 60% of patients have embryos in frozen storage after their cycle is complete.  These embryos can be used at any time; but it is common that some embryos remain after couples have completed their families.  This situation leaves patients facing a very difficult decision regarding the final disposition of any embryos still frozen.  Quite often patients are not prepared to make such a decision, nor are they aware of their disposition options. Patients were so focused on simply getting pregnant, they had not considered what to do with any remaining embryos after the cycle was complete. This article provides a brief explanation about the three disposition options available at PFC for surplus frozen embryos: disposal, research (and then disposal), or donation to another couple for use in achieving pregnancy.

Disposal of your embryos means they are removed from the storage tank and placed in a biohazard waste disposal container. Once the embryos are removed from the liquid nitrogen storage tank, they lose all viability in a matter of seconds. The embryos are not used for research purposes, not donated to any individual or company, and are not cultured beyond the stage of development at which they were frozen.  They are disposed of as medical waste.

Donating your embryos for use in research requires that the embryos be shipped to a company called Reprogenetics, LLC, based in New Jersey (www.reprogenetics.com). At Reprogenetics, the embryos are studied to understand normal and abnormal development.  Donating embryos specifically for stem cell research is also possible.  Reprogenetics offers a stem cell research option, however,  some additional paperwork must be completed directly with Reprogenetics  Whether donating to Reprogenetics for stem cell research or basic research, a PFC Research Disposition form must be competed.

Donating your embryos for use by another couple can be broken down into three sub-categories: known donation, open donation and anonymous donation. Known donation, also called directed donation, is the donation of your embryos to a person or couple that you know personally, perhaps a good friend or family member.

Anonymous donation of your embryos means that you donate your embryos to an organization, and the organization places your embryos with a family that you do not know and will not meet. The identity of both the donors and the recipients is not disclosed to either party. Through the PFC Embryo Placement Program, only anonymous embryo donations are accepted. Any stipulations about to whom or to what type of family situation the embryos are donated cannot be accommodated (i.e.: that the embryos be donated to a two-parent household, or a household of a certain income level, or living in a certain geographic area). The placement of anonymously donated embryos operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. At the moment, we have a very long list of patients wishing to receive donor embryos. Currently there is nearly a two year wait).

Open donation is the donation of your embryos to a party that you do NOT know, but wish to meet, and/or possibly remain in contact with, after the embryos are donated. Open donations require further legal expertise and overall guidance and handling beyond PFC’s current abilities. For these reasons, PFC is unable to offer open donations to our patients. For those interested in an open donation, or for those requesting certain criteria be met by the recipients, patients are encouraged to research third party agencies that facilitate embryo donations, both anonymous and open. One such program is the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Placement and Donation Program (www.snowflakes.org), operated by Nightlight Christian Placements. Snowflakes facilities both open & anonymous donation of embryos and can accommodate most requests from the donors and the recipients. Another possibility is Miracles Waiting (www.miracleswaiting.com), an online do-it-yourself matching program for donors and recipients. More general information about embryo donation and adoption can be found at the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC): www.embryodonation.org.

At PFC, all embryo dispositions are handled by our tissue bank manager Alexis VonAustin.  Her contact number is 415-249-3636. She can assist you with information, paperwork, and if necessary, with the shipping of embryos to the agencies listed above.

- Alexis VonAustin and Joe Conaghan, Pd.D., HCLD.