Fighting over frozen embryos: How to prevent disputes over cryopreserved reproductive materials

I just returned from the annual Oncofertility Consortium Conference and one of the ethical topics that came up was the possibility of disputes over frozen reproductive materials. Before undergoing life-saving cancer treatment, people may opt to freeze gametes, gonadal tissue, or embryos in order to preserve their fertility. If these people die or separate from their partners, a battle over what to do with the frozen reproductive materials can ensue. The best and easiest way to deal with disputes over reproductive material is to try to prevent them before they happen. In this blog, I discuss two ways to prevent such disputes.

One way is to have the individual with cancer write an advance directive that clearly outlines what should be done with the reproductive material should the patient die. If the reproductive materials are gametes or gonadal tissue, then ultimately the decision of what to do with the reproductive material should be made by individual with cancer, as it is her/his genetic material. If the reproductive materials are embryos, then the individuals who contributed the gametes to create the embryos should come to an agreement about how the embryos should be handled under unfortunate circumstances (e.g. death of the genetic parents or separation of the couple). Many infertility clinics require all patients—both individuals and couples—to complete a document outlining how to handle reproductive materials in unfortunate circumstances and I think this should be standard practice for oncofertility patients as well. Read the rest of this article on the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute at Albany Medical Center.