Vast Majority Of Cryopreserved Embryos Committed To Future Family Building
RAND Office of Media Relations
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May 8, 2003
The first-ever definitive study of the number of embryos created in infertility clinics in the United States and then placed in frozen storage found that nearly 90 percent of the embryos are slated for future family building uses by the patients who created them.
The study performed by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and RAND surveyed more than 430 Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) practices in the United States. The study reports there are nearly 400,000 (396,526) embryos currently being stored in cryopreservation facilities across the country.
The SART/RAND researchers also examined what the intentions of the patients regarding their embryos were. The overwhelming majority (88.2 percent) are being held to help the patients have children at a later date.
Treating patients with infertility using ART techniques often results in the creation of more embryos than can be used to create a single pregnancy. When this occurs, patients must decide what to do with the embryos that are in excess of their immediate clinical need. Many patients choose to freeze them for later use. If the initial treatment cycle does not produce a pregnancy, the patient may use the frozen embryos right away. If the cycle does lead to the birth of a child, the patients may wish to use the frozen embryos to have another child at a later date.
During the treatment process, the physicians, nurses and mental health staff at the infertility clinic will work with the patients to help them understand the process, and fully explore the options available to them. "It is important to remember that decisions about what to do with these embryos are, and should be, in the hands of the patients," said Robert Brzyski, MD, PhD, and president of SART.
The investigators in this study found that only a very small percentage of the embryos (4 percent) are available for donation. Eleven thousand embryos are available for donation for research with 9,000 available for donation to other patients for family building use. As directed by the patients, an additional 9,000 will be thawed without transfer.
Dr. David Hoffman, lead author of the study and a past president of SART commented, "We are pleased to be able to bring some real data to bear on this topic. Too often, policy discussions about reproductive medicine seem to be driven by emotion rather than fact."
"This study provides the best evidence to date about the number of frozen embryos in storage across the country and how patients intend to use them," said Gail Zellman, a RAND researcher and co-author of the report. "This is a key piece of information that has been missing from the debate over frozen embryos."
The paper appears in the May issue of Fertility and Sterility.
SART was established in 1987, in an effort to provide support and direction for the IVF programs in the United States. Since that time, SART has provided education, practice guidelines, oversight and most important data collection for IVF programs. The data collection function has resulted in publication of clinic specific data since 1989 and has been published in conjunction with the CDC since 1995.
The embryo work was done through RAND's Health and Law Program, which seeks to develop reliable information about how legal processes affect healthcare quality, costs and access in the nation.