Embryo Donation Could Provide Homes for Canada’s Frozen “Orphans”

Tens of thousands of human embryos remain in stasis in Canada’s hospitals awaiting possible implantation, but many become “orphaned”— no longer needed by the donors whose genetic material they carry. Embryo donation to infertile couples offers a solution to a problem that many consider ethically challenging: what to do with unwanted, but viable, human embryos.

Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, one of the largest hospitals in Canada, plans to offer anonymous embryo donation. The hospital’s Centre for Fertility and Reproductive Health will be the conduit through which prospective parents can receive embryo donation.

Dr. Ellen Greenblatt, medical director of the centre, spoke about potential donors. “Their families are complete, the only other option for what to do with the embryos is either store them indefinitely, which is really just delaying a decision, having them destroyed, or donating them for use in research studies — and some people aren’t feeling comfortable with any of those options.” She noted that embryo donation is a “very good option” for prospective parents and for couples who want their embryos to have a chance at life.

There is no known shelf life for human embryos. Cryopreserved animal embryos have been successfully implanted and brought to term after 25 years. Ethical questions about what to do with spare human embryos are only likely to grow more pressing as the number of these embryos increases, but embryo donation presents one answer to those questions.

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