What to do with surplus embryos?

[ By on June 18, 2015 ]

By many measures, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has helped infertile individuals and couples achieve pregnancy, a positive outcome.  At times, the process results in the creation of more embryos than a couple needs.  What should we do with those surplus embryos — creations that some consider as having equal moral status to an adult human, while others consider them as merely  a special clump of cells?  If the question seems simple, please recognize that the courts hear plenty of legal cases in which formerly loving couples dispute what should be done with their embryos, such as the well publicized case of Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiance.

While the list of choices – disposal, perpetual cryopresevation, and adoption – has been debated widely in the past ten years, I will admit that this article was the first time I’d read about “compassionate transfer (CT).”  In compassionate transfer, the couple has a physician transfer the embryo to the woman’s uterus at a time when the endometrium is not prepared for implantation.  This would make achieving a pregnancy impossible.  Without researching the practice more, I imagine that the idea behind CT is an analogy to garden variety sexual intercourse.  Couples engage in the act when they are ready to procreate and when they are not.  Another possible analogy is to miscarriage.  Up to one-third of pregnancies are lost to miscarriage, through no fault of the couple.  To compare IVF practices to typical non-intervention reproductive actions is an interesting idea.

Yet, I can’t help but feel that the intent behind CT is both critical and ignored.  Isn’t the couple clearly acting in a way to NOT achieve pregnancy?  Why do it “compassionately” instead of clinically, which would involve just discarding the embryos?  Or, if compassion is interpreted to mean giving the embryo at a chance – however small – at achieving life, why not donate the embryo to a couple interested in having a child?

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