In limbo: Leftover embryos challenge clinics, couples

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and other couples struggle with tough decisions

In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo, Kimberly Malm removes a container with frozen embryos and sperm being stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Tens of thousands of embryos are stuck in limbo in fertility clinics, leftovers from pregnancy attempts and broken dreams of parenthood.

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and can’t be found. In other cases, couples are struggling with tough decisions.

BIG READ: Seeing double – the trials and tribulations of twins

Jenny Sammis can’t bring herself to donate nearly a dozen of her extras to research. She and her husband agreed to do that when they made their embryos 15 years ago, but her feelings changed after using some of them to have children.

“I have these two gorgeous, smart people who came from this process,” Sammis said. “These embryos are all like seeds that could become potential people. That reality to me was all abstract when they were in the freezer.”

Tank failures at two clinics in Ohio and California last year revealed hidden issues with long-frozen embryos, including some from the 1980s when IVF began. A few years ago, medical groups developed sample consent forms clinics could use for new patients, spelling out what could happen to unused embryos. But that hasn’t resolved what to do with ones made long ago.

“It’s a real dilemma for these clinics,” said Rich Vaughn, a Los Angeles lawyer who headed the American Bar Association’s assisted reproduction committee for many years. “We don’t quite know what to do with them and everyone’s afraid to act” for fear they’ll be sued if people surface decades later and want their embryos.

RELATED: Trump birth control rule ignores science

The number is growing as more couples try IVF and because of changes in how it’s done. The old way was to mix eggs and sperm in the lab and transfer multiple fresh embryos to a womb, hoping at least one would lead to pregnancy. Now, couples usually freeze many embryos, test for health problems and transfer the most viable one at a time to avoid multiple births. That often means leftovers once the desired family is complete.

How many embryos are in storage isn’t known — centres don’t have to report that. One study estimated there were 1.4 million in the U.S. Researchers think 5 to 7 per cent are abandoned, though it’s as high as 18 per cent at some clinics. Some define that as a year of no contact or storage payments after reasonable efforts to find the owners others draw the line at five years. Some clinics search social media and hire investigators to find owners when abandonment is suspected.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Nelson goes green for Earth Day

Environment friendly initiatives were promoted at the annual event

Forester’s video animation helps explain Nelson’s wildfire risks

John Cathro’s video shows who owns land in and around Nelson

‘Surrounding a community with a fire break won’t help’

RDCK offers fire danger assessments to homeowners

Carfentanil found for first time in Castlegar

Killer opiod found in local illegal drug market

LETTER: 140,000 jobs are at risk

From reader Robert MacCrae

VIDEO: Nelson students paint Parachutes for the Planet

The youth-led initiative lobbies governments for climate change action

PHOTOS: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says ‘I do’ on Earth Day

May and John Kidder got married Monday morning in Victoria

Sri Lanka invokes war-time military powers after nearly 300 killed in Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks

Ex-mayor of northern village claims its drivers are overpaying ICBC $1,800 a year

Darcy Repen says data shows Telkwa households are being ripped off for car insurance

Deadly synthetic drug found in Kamloops that puts users in ‘zombielike’ state

Interior Health warning says substance causes ‘speedy, trippy-like symptoms’ and hallucinations

Trudeau to be portrayed on ‘Simpsons’ episode

Toronto journalist who’s posted videos of himself doing impressions of the PM voiced him for the show

Elizabeth May’s wedding dress a ‘walk through a garden’ on Earth Day

Green Party leader set to get married in Victoria

Bodies of 3 mountain climbers recovered after last week’s Banff avalanche

The men disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in the Icefields Parkway

B.C. fire department rescues kittens

Enderby homeowner not aware kittens in wood pile near garbage pile fire that got out of hand

Most Read