Center for American Progress

Where the Embryos Go: IVF Patients Want to Support Research

Where the Embryos Go: IVF Patients Want to Support Research

Many couples undergoing fertilization treatments want to donate their excess embryos to stem cell research. But they don't have that option.

It’s well known that the public strongly supports embryonic stem cell research. Less attention has been paid to the opinions of the couples actually making decisions about what to do with excess embryos. In the wake of the president’s veto of lesgislation that would have helped to further stem cell research, a new study suggests that a large majority of couples want to donate their excess embryos to research. Unfortunately, President Bush has decided that those couples don’t have a choice in the matter.

When a couple undergoes in vitro fertilization, they frequently end up with excess embryos that are not needed for the treatment. The couple has a number of options regarding what do to with those embryos, including donating them to research, destroying them, storing them indefinitely, or donating them to other infertile couples.

Researchers at Duke University and Johns Hopkins University reported in a study released this week that 62 percent of couples with embryos preserved for IVF treatments would readily donate them to stem cell research. The researchers also found that only 22 percent of couples would donate their embryos to another infertile couple, challenging the Bush administration’s support for this option as an alternative use of excess embryos.

The authors of the study suggest that embryos donated from fertility treatment clinics could provide several thousand more cell lines for research—100 times the number of lines currently available for federal funding. Rather than see those embryos discarded as medical waste, many couples want them to be used for potentially life-saving research.

Yet President Bush’s recent actions would heavily restrict the ability of couples to make that decision. President Bush yesterday decided once again to ignore the public will, vetoing a bill that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Even if couples were to donate their embryos, the president’s policy would prevent federally funded researchers from using them.

While private and state sources provide some funding for stem cell research, they cannot replace robust support from the federal government. The federal government is by far the largest funding body, and federal funding ensures that the research will be appropriately regulated, including ensuring that the stem cell lines are derived with full informed consent of the donating couples.

Restricting the ability of couples to donate their embryos leaves them with few options. Most do not want to donate them to another couple, leaving them with the choice of discarding or freezing their embryos. But isn’t this exactly what opponents of the research oppose so adamantly?

Rather than force couples to discard excess embryos, we should allow them to donate them to research that will speed the race to life-saving cures. President Bush needs to put his trust in the people making these decisions, and stop letting ideology overrule the will of the American people.

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