What Does Compassionate Transfer Mean?
A compassionate transfer is a method of dealing with the remaining embryos created during in vitro fertilization (IVF) where any "left-over" embryos are transferred to a uterus when they are highly unlikely to implant and develop into a pregnancy.
The process was created to address the moral, ethical, and religious opposition some people have to embryo disposal after IVF.
Having the extra embryos transferred at a time when they are highly unlikely to result in pregnancy can provide a feeling that the embryos died in a more "natural" way, similar to a miscarriage. This allows some people to feel that the decision was ultimately made by nature, rather than the individual.
Compassionate transfer is a divisive procedure that not all fertility clinics will support for ethical reasons. One 2009 article estimated that fewer than 5%of clinics in the U.S. offered the procedure.
FertilitySmarts Explains Compassionate Transfer
During an IVF cycle, the goal is to have high-quality embryos to transfer back to a uterus. It is a multi-step process that has a steady attrition or loss rate as the process progresses. Because of this attrition, it is important that an optimal number of eggs (which is individual and depends on ovarian reserve and age), are matured and retrieved to start with.
Depending on how many eggs make it to transferable blastocysts and the number of children desired, it is possible that more embryos will be created than an individual or couple will choose to use.
Options For Remaining Embryos
Once parents feel that their family is complete, there is a question of what to do with any remaining embryos.
Because the development of embryos can be an emotional, lengthy, and financially taxing process, deciding what to do with any remaining embryos can be a difficult decision.
The options for remaining embryos can include:
- Leave them frozen, which has a yearly fee and in some cases, a time limit.
- Respectful disposal through the clinic.
- Donate them to another individual or couple to build their family. (Read about one family's experience with embryo donation.)
- Donate them to medical research.
- In some cases, compassionate transfer.
As permanent storage is often not a possible long term solution, the available options essentially fall into two categories: donation or destruction.
For those who feel that these two categories are too drastic and not well suited to their situation, compassionate transfer is thought to provide an alternative option.
Compassionate Transfer is Divisive
Compassionate transfer is not supported by all doctors or clinics. There are ethical factors that medical professionals may consider —both for and against the procedure.
Proponents of Compassionate Transfer
The destruction of embryos for some is emotionally and morally difficult. Proponents of this procedure say that it alleviates this moral stress and allows parents to make a choice that is in line with their beliefs.
In addition, some may prioritize patient autonomy and the desire to allow patients to control what happens to their embryos.
Opponents of Compassionate Transfer
Opponents question the ethics of the procedure, noting that transferring embryos when the uterus has not been hormonally stimulated to prepare for implantation has little difference from other forms of embryo destruction. Some feel that it is deceptive to support compassionate transfer as a “more natural” loss than other forms of destruction.
In addition, some question the ethics of charging fees and using clinic resources for a service that provides no medical benefit to a patient yet still has a small risk of infection or unintended pregnancy.