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Survey: Most IVF clinics willing to destroy embryos

WASHINGTON (BP)–Nearly all in vitro fertilization clinics in the United States create more embryos than they will implant in a woman’s womb, and more than 80 percent are willing to destroy those embryos, according to a new survey.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University, found 210 of 217 IVF clinics that responded to a questionnaire create extra embryos.

From the 208 clinics that completed the questionnaire fully, the survey reported the following:

— All the clinics were willing to cryopreserve, or freeze, extra embryos, but 96 percent charged a fee.

— 123 clinics (59 percent) were willing not to create extra embryos if requested.

— 158 clinics (76 percent) would donate embryos to other couples seeking to reproduce.

— 124 clinics (60 percent) were willing to donate embryos for research, which would result in their destruction.

— 175 clinics (84 percent) disposed of (or, destroyed) extra embryos. Of these, 78 percent required permission from both members of a couple before disposing of them.

— Of the 175 clinics practicing disposal, 94 percent did so by treating the embryos as biological waste.

There is a simple solution to the destructive practice of creating extra embryos, bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said.

“Do not create any extra embryos,” said Mitchell, an assistant professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. “Embryos belong in uteruses. When we depart from that basic axiom, trouble is bound to follow.”

Couples, and not the fertility industry, must dictate “how we care for our youngest offspring,” he said.

“Couples can control this situation if they are well informed, faithful to the basic axiom that embryos belong in the uterus and courageous,” said Mitchell, who also serves as a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “If they choose to use IVF, they should never allow the creation of more embryos than they are willing to have implanted. If couples find it impossible to say, ‘No,’ embryos will be killed.”

There is a potential ministry in this quagmire for other couples, Mitchell said.

“In the meantime, some couples may choose, as a means of rescue, to adopt the embryos that are in fertility clinics around the country,” he said. “Those who are not adopted after a reasonable amount of time should be given a decent burial, and this tragedy should never be repeated.”

It is estimated that about 400,000 embryos are preserved in storage in the United States.

The Penn-Rutgers researchers, who said the survey was the first of its kind, mailed the questionnaires in June 2002. They were delivered to 341 clinics, but only 64 percent responded.