It is difficult to find objective data on the practice of embryo donation. Now, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has provided data on this topic for the period 2000 to 2013 in the United States.

As we know, with the use of in vitro fertilization (see HERE) growing daily, there is an increase in the number of surplus embryos, which are then frozen. The issue of what to do with these embryos is problematic. There are essentially four possibilities:

a) use them for biomedical research;

b) donate them for adoption to infertile couples;

c) leave them frozen permanently, or

d) thaw them and let them die.

   Frozen embryos ethical approach 

From an ethical point of view, none of these solutions is clearly positive, although, in our opinion, one of the most acceptable is the donation to infertile couples. 

1,400,000 is the frozen embryos number in the U.S.only in 2013. The vast majority of people prefers to donate them to biomedical research. Ethical approach.

We will not pause here to make an ethical evaluation of this practice, which considered from the point of view of what we could call “secular ethics” is widely accepted; from a moral point of view and in accordance with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, however, it offers unquestionable difficulties (see HERE).

Referring specifically to the article mentioned, we shall evaluate some data in particular, especially referring to the United States. Prior to this article, the largest study was published in 2012 (see HERE ) and evaluated data from Europe and the United States. It found disparate results, with a live birth rate per embryo transfer ranging between 14% and 33%; when only data from the United States was analyzed, this rate was 33%.

The aforementioned study retrospectively evaluated United States data for the years 2000 to 2013. Over that period, a total of 10,883 frozen embryos were transferred. The number of embryos transferred increased gradually over those years, from 332 in 2000 to 1,374 in 2013.

The pregnancy rate also rose at this time, from 33.3% to 49.1%, while the live birth rate rose from 26.5% to 40.8%.

In 2007, 170 (39.5%) of the existing 430 clinics performed at least one donor embryo transfer, whereas in 2013 (43.0%) of the existing 467 clinics performed at least one of these procedures. Most frozen embryos were obtained from women aged under 35 years, while the recipients were 38 years of age or older. Some of the donor cycles initiated were not completed, with a cancellation rate of 7.1 % (data between 2007 and 2013).

Economical aspects

One economic characteristic is that the cost of frozen donor embryo is roughly one third that of an autologous cycle and one quarter that of donor egg, as the embryos are taken from those left over from IVF and frozen, and the donor does not have to be remunerated.

See The biological status of the human embryo


Justo Aznar

Bioethics Observatory


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