Rise in IVF popularity leaves thousands of babies in limbo

by Kiley Crossland
Posted 10/25/13, 03:13 pm

More women are using donated eggs for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and more healthy babies are being born through the process, according to a study released last week. While this is good news, the process also creates more embryos than can be implanted, leaving hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in fertility clinics.

For women with viable eggs who cannot become pregnant, IVF involves extracting their own eggs, fertilizing them, and then re-implanting them in the uterus. Women who do not have viable eggs go through a similar IVF process using eggs from other women. The number of women who attempted IVF from another woman’s eggs increased from 10,801 in 2000 to 18,306 in 2010. The percentage of healthy outcomes from donated eggs, defined as a baby born after 37 weeks weighing 5.5 pounds or more, increased from 18.5 percent in 2000 to 24.4 percent in 2010. 

The study, conducted by researchers at Emory University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined data from 443 fertility clinics in the United States. Researchers looked for trends in donor egg pregnancies and prenatal outcomes in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Assisted Reproductive Technology Surveillance System (NASS), which includes data from 95 percent of all IVF cycles in the nation. 

The study also found that women are increasingly implanting only one embryo in an IVF cycle. Because doctors are unable to predict with certainty which embryos have the best chance of resulting in a healthy baby, many women implant more than one embryo during an IVF cycle, increasing the odds that at least one of the embryos will survive. However, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of women who transferred only one embryo, and thereby avoided the possibility of multiple births, increased from less than 1 percent to 15 percent.  

Developments in IVF are offering more women the chance to carry a healthy baby. However, the process is wrought with ethical controversy, as many clients don’t know what to do with the extra embryos created: An estimated 600,000 frozen embryos are stored in fertility clinics throughout the United States. 

“The vast majority of people don’t have a plan,” says Daniel Nehrbass, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, an organization that does embryo adoptions. “They don’t want to destroy them because there is finality to that. So they store them and the years go by.” 

Nightlight connects families storing frozen embryos with couples seeking to get pregnant. WNG.org has a reality series on one couple, the Lims, who have chosen embryo adoption through another group, National Embryo Donation Center.  

In the face of many grey ethical issues, including the question of whether couples should pursue IVF at all, Nehrbass said NightLight sees two things as black and white: “Embryos are human life, and they deserve a chance to be born.”  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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