What happens to embryos not used in ivf


In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a medical procedure where an egg is fertilized outside the body, before being placed back into a woman’s uterus to hopefully achieve pregnancy. As part of IVF, many couples who undergo the procedure will create more embryos than they need to transfer back into the woman’s uterine lining. This means there are leftover embryos that are stored for potential later use by the parents.

It can be difficult for couples to decide what will become of these leftover embryos after their IVF cycle has ended. Parents can choose from several options, including:

  • Discarding them
  • Giving them away
  • Donating them to science through embryo adoption or research

These decisions must be considered carefully before making a decision about how to handle any unused embryos created during an IVF cycle.

What is IVF?

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), is a medical procedure in which a female’s eggs are fertilized outside the body, in a laboratory dish. It is one of several assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments available to couples who are having difficulty conceiving a baby naturally. It involves stimulating the ovaries with medications to stimulate the production of eggs, collecting said eggs via follicular aspiration, combining them with sperm samples in the laboratory and implanting any resulting embryos back into the uterus.

IVF can yield multiple embryos, which increases the chance for successful pregnancy; however, there may be some extra embryos that are not used. So what happens to these embryos? And what ethical implications does this raise? It’s important to understand what choices patients have when it comes to unused embryos created through IVF. This guide will help you better understand how unused IVF embryos are handled and provide information about specific procedures and their associated legalities across different countries:

Embryos Not Used in IVF

When couples go through IVF treatments, the resulting embryos are often frozen for later use. However, sometimes the embryos are not used and left in cryopreservation. This presents an important ethical and legal question for clinics, doctors, and patients alike: what should be done with these leftover embryos?

In this article, we’ll explore the different options and the implications of each:

Freezing of Embryos

The process of freezing embryos creates a viable storage option when the intended parents are not ready to use them during the initial IVF cycle. Freezing extends the lifespan of embryos and prevents fertility loss, as well as reducing total financial costs in cases where multiple cycles are needed. The technique of embryo cryopreservation involves using a cryoprotectant solution to eventually protect them from destruction due to ice crystal formation. Once preserved in liquid nitrogen tanks at very low temperatures (-196°C), embryos can remain viable for up to five years or even longer with optimal storage conditions.

Donated or remaining embryos can be used in a variety of ways by a fertility clinic, including:

  • Being made available for adoption;
  • Being kept in frozen storage until they may be needed by their genetic parents;
  • Being transferred in an embryo donation cycle;
  • Being used for research and educational purposes, with proper consent from all parties involved.

Donation of Embryos

When couples undergo IVF, they are able to create more embryos than they need for their own family. In this case, they have the option to donate those extra embryos to other infertile couples. This procedure, known as embryo donation or embryo adoption, is an increasingly popular way for those in need of fertility treatment to start a family.

In most cases, the donor couple chooses which type of donor program they would like to be a part of – either anonymous or directed donation. In anonymous donation, no identifying information such as names or addresses will be shared between the families. Conventional anonymous programs require that all parties agree in writing not to attempt contact with one another. Directed donation is when the donor couple requests that their donated embryos be transferred into the recipient mother’s uterus in exchange for compensation from the recipient couple (usually financial).

Many people view embryo donation and adoption as a wonderful and generous act, helping other families fulfill their dreams of starting a family. It also allows couples who have been unable to conceive by other means access to surrogates with good reproductive health who may be unable or unwilling for medical reasons or desire for privacy reasons do not want traditional IVF-in-vitro fertilization-assisted conception at home.

Disposal of Embryos

Embryos created through IVF can also be disposed of if they aren’t used during the IVF procedure. This is often done through cryopreservation, where the embryos are frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen until they can be safely discarded. The process helps to preserve the embryos and ensure that any potential ethical issues associated with disposal are addressed.

In some cases, embryos may be donated to research centers for scientific studies or for education purposes. More common today is embryo adoption, in which couples who cannot conceive a child themselves choose to use donated embryos from another couple. This provides a valuable opportunity for individuals or families to experience parenthood.

In all of these scenarios, thoroughly evaluating all of the legal requirements is necessary before making any decision about disposing frozen embryos.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations when it comes to unused embryos from IVF treatments are complex and varied. Depending on what is best for the child, parents may choose to store, thaw, use for medical research, or donate for another IVF cycle. But what is the best option for the embryos, and what are the implications for the parents?

Let’s explore the ethical considerations of leftover embryos from IVF treatments:

Respect for Human Life

Respect for human life is a major ethical consideration when it comes to running any kind of business. Respect for human life dictates that the rights and well-being of individuals – both employees, suppliers and customers – are given the utmost priority by any organization. Businesses should ensure that their practices are not detrimental to any individual or group, and that they promote fairness, equity, and respect for all.

This concept is closely related to principles like human rights, employee welfare, sustainability, customer satisfaction and safety. This means taking into account troubling issues such as environmental pollution or unsafe working conditions in the developing world, paying attention to labor laws in different countries, providing fair compensation to employees, providing opportunities for marginalized populations to participate in business activities where possible etc.

The successful implementation of this concept requires that all stakeholders associated with a business – from owners and directors to employees at every level – be made aware of it and understand its importance in ensuring the continued health of an organisation. This entails setting up internal systems that guarantee these ethical considerations are respected by all parties involved in an organization’s activities (including subcontractors who may be external). This can be achieved through effective corporate governance processes such as due diligence over supplies sourced from external vendors or regular auditing by independent professionals who can identify ethical violations even before they become serious problems.

Right to Privacy

The right to privacy is an incredibly important consideration when dealing with any medical procedure and IVF is no exception. As embryos are created outside of the body, they must be carefully handled, stored and disposed of. Therefore, it’s important that IVF patients understand exactly what happens to their embryos before they start treatment.

Patients should be made aware that their embryos are a part of their medical records and can be viewed by the people providing IVF care or other approved healthcare professionals as needed. The personal information contained within the patient’s medical records is protected under privacy laws, ensuring that the patient’s rights to privacy are respected.

When a couple begins seeking fertility treatments such as IVF, they have to decide how many embryos should be implanted into the uterus. However, this decision does not consider what will happen with their remaining frozen embryos – something which should be discussed prior to starting treatment.

Generally, there are 4 options for couples when it comes to these unused embryos:

  • discarding them
  • donating them for research or adoption purposes (sometimes through agencies)
  • keeping them indefinitely in long-term storage
  • donating them specifically for posthumous conceptions (PC).

Posthumous Conception refers to implanting previously frozen embryos into a surrogate after one parent has passed away so that offspring can still exist from that parent without waiting for natural conception or adoption/fostering taking place. Each of these options carries its own ethical implications in relation to personal values and beliefs so couples must make sure they have considered all their choices before deciding on an outcome for their remaining frozen embryos.

Consent of Couples

When conducting research with couples, it’s important to remember that both individuals must provide informed consent. Informed consent is the process of informing and educating research participants of the study’s purpose, any expectations, associated risks, and benefits in order for them to give their voluntary and informed agreement.

Whenever possible, both partners should agree individually to participate in a study. It’s important to ensure that no partner is under duress when they are deciding whether or not they will take part in a study. In some cases it may be necessary to remind individuals that they do not need to agree with each other’s decisions or stay together if one decides not to participate.

In addition, it is important to:

  • Obtain separate consents from each partner for the collection of data from both of them and for the release of any results that pertain specifically to one partner (such as health information).
  • Inform participants of their rights within the research process and create opportunities for questions about the study or individual issues prior to agreeing to participate.
  • Address any potential conflicts within a relationship early on to help avoid potential problems down the line.
  • Remain mindful at all times of power imbalances within relationships when conducting interviews with couples.


The options available to couples who have embryos that were not used in IVF treatment depend largely on their personal and moral beliefs. Overall, it is important to ensure that any decisions made about embryos are made with full knowledge of the consequences and the legal requirements in the relevant jurisdiction.

For those who choose to donate their embryos for research, it is vital that they receive accurate information from their fertility clinic and that they discuss their beliefs on the use of human tissues and cells with an ethical advisor or counsellor. Those who consider adoption should also make sure that a thorough screening process is undertaken in order to determine whether or not an embryo should be placed with a couple or family unit.

Finally, for those couples who decide against either option, cryopreservation may be an alternative solution which could allow them more time when considering their decision-making process. By taking into consideration all of these factors, couples can make informed decisions about how to move forward with any leftover embryos they may have.