When in vitro fertilization was developed in the 1970s, critics of the technique imagined a world a la Aldous Huxley, filled with assembly-line designer babies. It didn’t turn out like that. Instead, the procedure simply gave infertile couples another route to start a family. But it also created a problem that critics never imagined.

Couples trying IVF typically make several embryos at a time: the healthiest ones are used right away, and the rest are frozen and stored for future use. But once a couple has all the children they want, they need to decide what to do with the ‘spares’. In an article for the New York Times, Tamar Lewin explains that decision is rarely easy.

There are no national statistics on what happens with these leftover embryos. As a practical matter, many sit in storage indefinitely, costing $300 to $1,200 a year. A small percentage of people stop paying the storage fees and leave it to the clinic or facility to figure out what to do.

But most people grapple among these choices: using them to have more babies; thawing and disposing of them; donating them for research; or, like the Wattses, giving them to another family.

And families discover that – at least in the United States – they have to navigate a confusing mess of social opinions and religious beliefs, with neither federal nor state laws for guidance.

[via New York Times]


Contact the author at diane@io9.com. Photo Credit AP Images | Sang Tan

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