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Life and Death: Putting Your Embryos in Your Will

frozen embryos in will.jpg

a blog by Serena H. Chen, M.D., IRMS Reproductive Medicine at Saint Barnabas, August 1, 2011

To read more of the IRMS Are You Trying to Conceive? blogs, CLICK HERE.

Is it crazy to be thinking about death when you are trying to create life?

Yes, on the one hand, it seems morbid to think about what to do with your frozen embryos, should you or your husband die.

On the other hand, no, I don’t think so — not when I see a patient whose only hope of having a family is to find some donated frozen embryos.

Many Fertility Patients Need Donated Embryos

Patients who need embryo donation are usually patients who have failed multiple fertility treatments. These are usually patients who have run out of options because of a lack of insurance coverage, money or both.

Multiple failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles usually mean that a person needs to consider egg donation or adoption in order to have a family — both of which are tremendously expensive, which is a common obstacle for many people. Embryo donation is often less than a third of the cost of a donor egg cycle or adoption.

Is it crazy to be thinking about death when you are trying to create life? Not when there are tens of thousands of frozen embryos sitting in IVF labs all across the country, held hostage by the limbo of indecision.

Making the Decision

The question of what to do with leftover frozen embryos once you have completed your family is a tough question that many infertility patients avoid.

Your options with leftover frozen embryos are:

  1. Using the embryos yourself
  2. Destroying the embryos
  3. Donating the embryos to research
  4. Donating the embryos to another couple

Ideally, infertility patients should decide which option they want before they create the embryos, and they should decide which option they want should they die once the embryos are created.

There is no right or wrong decision. Clearly, this decision is a very personal one that involves all kinds of difficult questions and issues.

The only wrong decision is: no decision.


Serena H. Chen, M.D., is Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey. Dr. Chen is also the Director of the Ovum Donation (Egg Donation) and Third Party Program at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas.

Dr. Chen is a board certified fertility doctor — she is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology. She specializes in hysteroscopy, and has pursued special clinical interests in PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), recurrent miscarriage, PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), and sperm and egg donation. Dr. Chen's professional interests have evolved considerably over the course of her career as a fertility doctor.

Comments (1)

Dr. Chen,
Thanks for writing on this important topic regarding what will happen with remaining frozen embryos. It can be a difficult decision, but I like your line that the only wrong decision is no decision. There are now well over 500,000 embryos in frozen storage and they simply keep accummulating because of the rising rates of IVF and the indecision of those who have completed their own family.

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