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The embryo dilemma

For many who undergo in vitro fertilization, the hard choices have just begun.

October 06, 2008|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

BEHIND EVERY ONE of the approximately half-million embryos in frozen storage in the United States are the adults responsible for creating them.

About half ultimately decide to discard them, research has shown, a procedure that can be as unceremonious as a lab technician dumping the contents of a glass pipette into a hazardous-waste container.

The other half face a more complex resolution. Ethicists and medical professionals widely agree that families need better counseling on the personal and ethical ramifications of having leftover embryos. Although couples are typically advised about their options when they first undergo in vitro fertilization, they often change their minds once treatment is complete, says Nanette Elster, director of the Health Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

Regular updates for those with frozen embryos would remind people they have responsibility for the embryos, she says, adding that information on their options should be given in a medically accurate and politically neutral manner.

"This area is evolving rapidly. Is the choice they made before treatment still the choice they want to make now?"

Here we explore two options -- donation for research and donation for adoption -- that are proving difficult for families to carry out.

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