Excess embryos? Donating to stem cell research is one option.

June 21, 2010Carole 4 Comments »

When you get pregnant and have your families, and most of you will get there, you might at some point realize that your family is as big as you want it to be, but you still have IVF embryos in a clinic freezer somewhere. What to do? The entire menu of options is:

  • Thaw and discard the embryos.
  • Donate the embryos to another person or couple to create a pregnancy for them
  • Donate embryos to the clinic for technical training and subsequent discard
  • Donate embryos to a stem cell research program
  • Do nothing and the clinic will eventually dispose abandoned embryos as they see fit- usually by discard. You can read the ASRM’s ethical opinion on Disposition of Abandoned Embryos here.

My own experience is that most of our patients quietly opted for option number 1, discard, sometimes allowing the clinic to use the thawed embryos for technical training first, sometimes not. We did however receive an increasing number of inquiries about donating embryos to stem cell research. Patients who chose donation for stem cell research had many reasons for this choice. Some patients expressed a desire that “some good come from the embryos”. Others were not comfortable with embryo donation and having “their kids raised by someone else” but didn’t want to thaw and discard.

I realize that not everyone is comfortable with stem cell donation. To learn more about stem cell research , here is a list of links that provide a wide overview.

Stem Cell Basics Prepared by the National Institutes of Health.

Frequently Asked Questions about stem cells Prepared by the National Institutes of Health

Frequently Asked Questions about stem cells Prepared by the International Society for Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Policy Briefs From the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This link has an interesting timeline of how stem cell policy changed over the years as the presidential administration changed.

Identifying research programs that accept embryo donations can be somewhat challenging. The National Institute of Health lists twelve research programs that work on stem cells, but only a few of these programs use human embryos. Most of the other centers limit their research to adult stem cells.

The two stem cell research programs on the NIH list that are currently accepting embryo donations include:

the The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF . Contact ivftissuebank@ucsf.edu for more information on how to donate.

The Renew Biobank at Stanford School of Medicine

The Harvard School of Medicine, has an embryo donation program but it is currently not accepting embryo donations due to insufficient funding for the program. It sounds like they may reopen that option in the future.

How to donate. These research programs will send you a consent form that explains the research they are doing and that you give up all rights to the embryos when they are donated. Some programs will not accept embryos created with anonymous donor gametes because there is no way to go back and get informed consent from these anonymous donors. Other programs have no donor restrictions. The fertility center will likely also have some release documentation for you to sign. Then the fertility center will ship your embryos to the research center. The research center will not pay for the embryos but they will usually pay the shipping expenses to get the embryos to their center.

Your can ask your clinic to waive the storage fee while you are making the arrangements for donation. We waived fees for pending transfers, but I don’t know how widespread that practice is. We recognized that it took some time for the paperwork to get sorted out and we didn’t want to make discarding the embryos immediately the only affordable option to get out from under embryo storage fees.

When you are shopping for a clinic, you might ask about their embryo disposition options. Some clinics may make it more difficult for you to elect donation to stem cell research if the owners/operators are opposed to embryo research. Remember that you have the right to decide the final disposition of your excess embryos and your clinic must allow you to transfer the embryos to any other receiving facility of your choice. If you have identified a research program that will accept your embryos, your fertility clinic is obliged to transfer your embryos to that program. Some clinics will have arrangements already in place to help expedite your decision to donate to stem cell research programs.

© 2010, Carole. All rights reserved.

4 Responses to this entry

  • Emily Fischer Says:

    This is a very controversial issue. But

  • Emily Fischer Says:

    we need to do something about it and thawing the embryos is not the best option by far. If people have problems with donating them to other couples why not let stem cell research use them? Thawing them is also killing them so you might as well let some good come of their “death”. I’m not saying that you have to donate them to research but it is the better option.

    age: 14
    thats right!

  • Carole Says:

    Hi Emily,
    Thanks so much for your comment. It’s such a hard choice for patients. I agree with you that I much prefer donation to stem cell research if the alternative is discard without use. But because there is so much variation in personal opinion on this topic, I think we need to protect all the options for patients so they can decide what is right for them based on their personal feelings about these difficult options. Best wishes, Carole

  • Eliza Frincz Says:

    It’s true that it’s a difficult topic to talk about. Especially if you have never been in that particular situation. Everyone is different so everyone has different feelings on the subject which will lead them each to their opinion on what to do.

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