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Difficult decisions

June 13, 2009

An article in the Sunday paper caught my eye this weekend. Despite the increase in IVF treatment, there is still a lack of couples who have undergone successful treatment choosing to donate ‘unwanted’ embryos to other couples. Apparently only 1% of remaining embryos are eventually donated, with over 90% slated for destruction.

One couple who had already got their full compliment of children chose to destroy their remaining embies, due to the fact that they would not be able to have a say in the family that would receive the donation. This family wanted to contribute not only their genetic material, but wanted an assurance that their moral values would also be transferred.

While I believe this is a very personal decision, one comment was that they had chosen for the mother to stay at home with her kids – and did not want any other ‘children’ to be raised by someone who might put them into daycare at the age of 6 months.

I have to confess I find this a somewhat trivial reason on which to base such a big decision – after all, it’s likely that a couple who have gone through so much to have their own child would value this gift, and offer it a caring and loving environment. But can I pretend that The Baron and I made our decision about the future of any of our embies based on anything more significant?

In Australia, decisions about the future of any frozen embryos need to be made before the actual egg collection takes place. Among other things, we needed to agree on what we would do with the frozen preciouses if one of us died or was permanently disabled, if we separated, and if we decided we wanted no more children. That’s a fairly deep conversation to be having at the best of times, much less at a stressful time when the future is so uncertain.

Currently, the three options for surplus embryos are destruction, donation to another couple, or donation for research purposes.

We just couldn’t feel comfortable knowing that at age 18, any donated embryos would have the right to find their biological parents. The simple fact of explaining why they were not ‘good enough’ to be our kids (embryos are rated on likely success – the best are implanted, the rest remain on ice), combined with the strange fact that we might walk past a child who, but for twist of fate, would have been ours.

And yet, the feeling of ownership over the embryos expressed by the couple in the article- the right to have a say over their future, was never something we were concerned about. The embies to us were just balls of cells.

But in the end, we didn’t want their existance to be for nothing – and felt strongly that we did want to contribute to other couples having their family, as others have done before us – but in a less direct way. So in the end, we were in the 5% that selected donation to research. Which ended up a moot point in the end, since due to the cautiousness of our IVF specialist and a bit of bad luck, we had nothing left over to save.

If we eventually try for another child through IVF, we will have to reconfirm this decision. I wonder whether having a child will make us reevaluate how we see those tiny balls of cells, when we finally see the potential of our one lucky embie fulfilled.

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