Nearly 50% of couples who were interviewed at least 3 years after undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) chose to donate their surplus, stored embryos for stem cell research, according to a report.
The key to the couples' decisions, according to the authors of the report, was the complete and clear explanation of their options through an interview process with a legal advisor and embryologist, which helped couples navigate the confusing legal situation and address any concerns they might have had about donation for research purposes. While the findings reflect the interest level among couples in Spain—where the stem cell research environment is fairly open and people have traditionally been supportive of organ and tissue donation—the researchers believe that the results can be generalized to other countries.
"We are convinced that if this type of personal interview and survey were carried out in the U.S.A., at least 50% of the couples would be willing to donate their spare embryos for stem cell research," said Pablo Menendez, director of the Spanish Stem Cell Bank in Granada, Spain.
The new findings "contrast sharply" with a 2003 report, which found that, of 400,000 embryos stored at that time in U.S. fertility clinics, less than 3% were available for research purposes. However, that study was primarily designed to quantify the number of frozen embryos via questionnaires sent to couples before or shortly after their IVF cycles.
In the current study, the couples, who had undergone IVF at least 3 years earlier, were presented with four options for the fate of their surplus embryos. The researchers found that 49% of couples chose to donate their embryos for stem cell research, 44% decided to keep them in storage for their own future use, 7% opted to donate them to other infertile couples, and fewer than 1% made the decision to discard the embryos.
"Among the couples who did not want to increase their family, 90% support the donation of embryos to stem cell research in a Catholic country—and, most importantly, almost no couple wants just to destroy the embryos," Menendez said.