In the UK, unused embryos from IVF and other fertility treatments are destroyed after five years. Other countries mandate that any embryos created during IVF must be transferred for implantation.
In the largely unregulated and privately funded US fertility industry, meanwhile, estimates--based on a 2002 Rand Corporation study--put the number of frozen embryos in the US as high as 500,000. A 2005 study by doctors at UCSF shows the average couple has seven embryos remaining after successful IVF. In a long article in the July issue of Mother Jones, Liza Mundy takes a look at the personal, moral, medical, and political issues surrounding this unimplanted "population."
Turns out that there has been almost no attention, support, or discussion available to parents regarding the "disposition decision" for their unused embryos; and so the decision usually doesn't happen, leaving embryos frozen and parents in uncharted moral and emotional territory. The UCSF study showed that 71% of parents who'd made some decision about unused embryos before implantation changed their minds afterward. The study also revealed that for over half the embryos in storage for more than three years, the patient/parents could no longer be found.
Souls on Ice [motherjones.com]