Tragically, many IVF clients find themselves deciding the fate of frozen embryos they do not intend to transfer. Some people find the decision too difficult to ever make, and “abandon” their embryos.

Abandoned embryos pose a problem for clinics and many now require clients to select a “disposition option” prior to starting IVF:

  1. Thaw and Discard
  2. Donate to Research
  3. Donate to Another Family

Even though they are frozen, cryopreserved embryos are alive. Thaw and Discard and Donate to Research authorize their death.

Donation to Another Family (or better, adoption) aims to preserve the embryo’s life, but moral instruction on the matter is not clear. Such adoption, though “praiseworthy with regard to intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems.” Dignitas Personae. (2008, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Some clinics allow, for a fee, clients to do a so-called compassionate transfer, where one or more embryos are transferred at a time in a woman’s cycle when implantation and pregnancy are highly unlikely. Since the intent is that the embryos die rather than implant, this cannot be considered morally acceptable.

What else can we do?

Ongoing preservation. Keeping the embryos frozen protects them and respects their life and integrity.

Confession. Catholics should be encouraged to take their use of IVF into this Sacrament. Humbly and honestly bringing oneself to God in this way is a source of saving grace and hope. Anyone wrestling with the fate of frozen embryos should be encouraged to talk with a priest or pastor.

Another transfer? If pregnancy is possible, would they consider transferring and carrying the embryo to term? It may require sacrifice, but the reality is that the embryo is their child.

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