Skip to main content

An infertile couple freezes a set of embryos, undergoes in-vitro fertilization, and creates a family. So, what happens with any "leftover" frozen embryos that are waiting in the wings?

As of August, 2003, a total of 15,615 embryos were in storage at 13 IVF clinics that responded to a survey by Dalhousie University researchers, according to a piece in the Vancouver Sun.

"There are 33 IVF clinics in the country today. And there have been about 60,000 cycles of IVF since 2003. Experts predict the number of cryopreserved human embryos is now probably triple the 2003 count," reports the piece.

Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, known for its fertility and obstetrics programs, is set to launch an embryo donation program, one of a growing number across the country.

"Their families are complete, the only other option for what to do with the embryos is either store them indefinitely, which is really just delaying a decision, having them destroyed or donating them for use in research studies — and some people aren't feeling comfortable with any of those options," Ellen Greenblatt, medical director of Mount Sinai's Centre for Fertility and Reproductive Health, told the reporter.

With embryo donation, "you're using material that otherwise is sort of wasted to help women and couples form families that they perhaps otherwise could never have," she says. "And for the couples that have extra embryos in the freezer that really can't get their heads around not giving that embryo a chance at becoming a child, it's a very good option for them."

This new high-profile initiative may fuel ongoing debate over the ethics of various new forms of medically-assisted family-making.

What do you make of the idea of IVF "orphans"? Is embryo adoption no different than regular adoption?