After three years of trying to conceive a child, Michele and Jeff Turner learned they were infertile. Our doctor told us, You have a better chance of winning the Powerball lottery than of conceiving a child naturally, said Michele, now 33.
In vitro fertilization (IVF), or seeking to produce an embryo outside the womb, was also a long shot. After two failed IVF attempts, the Turners looked into adopting a child and raising a family in their Royers Ford, Pennsylvania home. The cost (more than $20,000 in their area) was prohibitive.
Then, during a meeting of a national infertility support group, they heard about frozen embryos left from infertility treatments.
After contacting about 40 fertility clinics, the Turners joined an embryo donation program at the Cooper Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Mont Clare, New Jersey. Later, they received embryos from a donor family. In December 1999, Michele gave birth to twin daughters, Morgan and Macy.
Then, when their daughters were nine months old, Jeff and Michele discovered she was pregnant with a son, Myles, who was conceived naturally. They had to relinquish their rights to some remaining donated embryos, which were considered property of the clinic.
It was an excruciating thing to do, Michele said.
A new study, by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and the RAND Corporation, found that fertility clinics in the United State have nearly 400,000 frozen human embryos in storagetwice the highest previous estimate.
The survey of 430 clinics showed that 88.2 percent of the embryos are being stored for possible future use. About 11,000 are set aside for scientific research. About 9,000 are designated for infertile couples. Another 9,000 will be thawed and destroyed.
The findings have prompted a variety of responses from Christian activists and ethicists, from questioning IVF to pushing harder for embryo adoption. But most would agree with Pia de Solenni, a fellow at the Center for Human Life and Bioethics at Family Research Council: Human beings are never disposable, whether [in the form of] an embryo, a baby, or a 90-year-old woman.
Clinics first began freezing embryos after 1983, when IVF was introduced in the United States. In the freezing process, technicians place embryos in plastic straws or glass vials, along with a cryo-preservative or antifreeze solution.
Then workers store them in a cylinder of liquid nitrogen at about minus 319 degrees Fahrenheit. The report notes that some of the 400,000 embryos have been frozen for 20 years.
No one knows how long the embryos can be stored, said Jeff Keenan, a reproductive endocrinologist and director of the Southeastern Fertility Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.
You could expect good thaw on embryos at five years, he said. Ten years is something most of us would prefer to avoid.
Keenan said many couples refuse to make a decision about the ultimate fate of their embryos, and just keep paying the storage fees. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Boston freezes about eight embryos a day and says it has 3,000 embryos under lock and key.
Keenan is trying to keep the numbers down at his clinic. Keenans practice keeps about 300 embryos in storage. Patients agree in writing to donate any leftover embryos to infertile couples. But getting couples to follow through is difficult, he said. Parents dont see that they are basically allowing them to die slowly in cryopreservation.
David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical Association, said the report indicates there are too few controls on IVF.
Similar articlesThe Southeastern Center for Fertility and Reproductive Surgery 1. Keenan JA, Segars JH, Herbert CM and Maxson WS: The Prevalence of Intraperitoneal Chlamydial Antigen in Asymptomatic Infertility Patients. Infertility 9:283-287, 1986.
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