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Houston Fertility Center

The Embryo Dilemma

By Sonja Kristiansen, MD on December 15, 2008

Recent news reports brought up again the ongoing questions surrounding embryo creation via IVF. Actually, the questions aren't so much about the creation side of things as they are about disposition of extra embryos.

As reproductive medicine specialists, we have focused mostly on the best ways to help individuals and couples conceive biological children. Success is very often a matter of numbers: the more eggs a woman ovulates, the more sperm a man has available, the more embryos created... the greater their chances at getting pregnant.

For years now, we specialists have been boiling down the science and finely tuning the techniques toward the ultimate goal: how best to unite only as many eggs and sperm necessary to create only as many embryos needed to make one healthy baby.

Single embryo transfer is a true possibility for some patients, but almost a pointless, expensive protocol for others.

At this point, it remains common for IVF patients to wind up with at least some "extra" embryos -- that is, too many embryos to transfer within the same treatment cycle -- so the question of what to do with the surplus continues to be answered.

In the study recently published in Fertility & Sterility, more than 1,000 infertility patients were surveyed about the choices they've pondered and made to address their own embryo surpluses.

Among other things, the survey results reveal a broad consensus of disappointment -- with the options offered at various clinics and with the level of pre-IVF information made available to them.

Fertility treatment centers are like any medical practice: filled with professionals who are people first. Different practices have varying policies based on many factors, including the personal beliefs of the professionals. Another component that steers clinic policies is the availability of resources.

Patients and professionals need not have all their beliefs in common, but there are sometimes "bottom lines" that patients use to make their choices about which fertility practice to turn to for assistance with getting pregnant and about which treatments to use. In the past, some practices were so results-driven, so focused on success rates, that even crucial issues like the disposition of surplus embryos were side-stepped or, at least, addressed with as much brevity as possible. The dilemma of extra embryos is very real and can no longer be seen as ancillary.

I'll discuss specific related options for patients of Houston Infertility Clinic in a follow-up blogpost.

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