7 May 2015

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IVF & embryo donation – the gift of a family

Dr Melissa Luckensmeyer

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Dr Melissa Luckensmeyer

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With Sofia Vergara, star of the hit TV show Modern Family, reportedly in a battle with her ex-fiancé over the rights to frozen embryos they created while together, the press attention around her situation has thrown issues surrounding stored embryos into the spotlight. A much more common situation, for couples who have had IVF treatment, is deciding what to do with excess frozen embryos after they have completed their family.

For many families, IVF is a life-changing experience – one that helps them realise the dream of a having a baby. As an obstetrician and a mother, I know just how much joy a child can bring to a family, conversely, I know the heartache that comes with not being able to conceive. With Mother’s Day approaching, now is the perfect time for couples with frozen embryos who have completed their family, to consider giving another family struggling to conceive the greatest gift of all.

Why are there embryos left over after an IVF cycle?

Today, about 1 in 23 children in Australia are born as a result of IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies. With IVF success rates continuing to rise, and with treatment becoming considerably more accessible, more couples than ever before are undergoing IVF for a number of medical and social reasons.

An IVF cycle involves a number of eggs being surgically collected from the female partner and fertilised with the male partner’s sperm, before being transferred back into the woman in the hope that she achieves a successful pregnancy and birth. Any remaining embryos are then frozen, allowing for future chances at pregnancy. If the couple have embryos left over after they have completed their family, they are then faced with the dilemma of what to do with those frozen embryos.

What are the options for excess embryos?

The length of time people can store their embryos varies from state to state in Australia, from 5 to 10 years. After that time, the biological mother and father of those embryos must make a decision about what do next – generally this involves donation for research1 or disposal of the embryos.

However, there is another option – donation of the embryos to another family.

Having overcome infertility and the fear they might never have a family, couples with excess embryos have a greater understanding and appreciation than most of just how generous the act of donating their embryos to another couple could be.

Embryo donation does come with complex emotional and psychological implications, so it’s a decision that involves a lot of consideration and counselling. Couples are often concerned about the welfare of the future children born from donated embryos, and consider how they will tell their own children.

What is the process for embryo donation?

If donating stored embryos is something you would like to consider, there are options. You can become a donor for someone you know – a friend, family member, or someone you know through personal networks that might be having trouble conceiving. Alternatively, many fertility clinics (including Queensland Fertility GroupIVF AustraliaMelbourne IVF and TasIVF) offer a confidential donor service. It’s worth being aware that generally you cannot donate embryos to another family if they have been created using donor sperm or eggs2. If you are interested in donating your excess embryos, I recommend that you speak to your fertility clinic initially, to find out more about the process, criteria and what counselling and support is offered.

It’s an emotional decision – one that’s full of complexities – but wouldn’t it be an amazing feeling to know you’ve helped one more mother’s dream come true next Mother’s Day?

Find out more:

Embryo Donation in Queensland  

Embryo Donation in NSW  

Embryo Donation in Tasmania   

1 Research in Australia using human embryos and stem cells is governed by strict guidelines and reviewed by various ethics committees and regulatory bodies. Embryo donation for research purposes may not be available for embryos created from donated gametes or for QFG patients.

2 At Melbourne IVF, embryos that have been created using donor eggs and/or sperm may be donated to another person or couple, although only after ethics committee approval has been obtained. 

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