Survey of 243 ART patients having made a final disposition decision about their surplus cryopreserved embryos: the crucial role of symbolic embryo representation

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Abstract

STUDY QUESTION

In couples who have chosen and confirmed the fate of surplus frozen embryos, which factors influence their decision, with a special emphasis on their symbolic representation of the embryo(s)?

SUMMARY ANSWER

Embryo representation and gamete donation use significantly influence the fate of surplus cryopreserved embryos.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY

Previous studies report difficulties for couples to decide whether or not to continue storing their frozen embryo(s) and different factors have been already highlighted which influence their decision, including embryo conceptualization, information and support provided by the medical institution, quality of embryo(s) and life events. Little is known, however, about couples who definitely decided to stop their parental project and finalized the process of decision-making about the fate of their cryopreserved embryo(s).

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION

This prospective study was conducted over a period of 3 years (2007–2010) and included IVF/ICSI patients with surplus frozen embryos, who made a final embryo disposition decision. Among the 280 eligible IVF/ICSI patients, 247 agreed to participate in the study. According to the available options, 91 persons chose to ‘stop cryopreservation’, 77 chose donation to ‘research’ and 48 ‘embryo donation’ to infertile couples. Furthermore, 31 participants who chose embryo donation for a parental project were refused by the center as not compatible with their mandatory medical conditions. Among them, 27 participants then selected donation to research as a new option and were included in a fourth group: ‘donation to research after Refusal of Embryo Donation for parental project’ or ‘research-RED’ (n = 27). Four participants chose ‘stop cryopreservation’, however, given the small number of subjects this latter group was not included in the analysis. In all, 243 participants who made a final choice concerning the fate of their cryopreserved embryos were included in this study.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS

Participants were sent a letter of invitation to a semi-structured interview of 30 min with a psychologist. Interviews were conducted separately for each partner, including a questionnaire with a common part and a specific part, according to the chosen option, and allowing a quantitative evaluation. A multivariate logistic regression model was used to assess the link between their embryo representation and their decision about their embryos' fate.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE

After adjustment for age, gender, gamete donation, number of children and the different embryo representations, a choice to ‘stop cryopreservation’ is more frequent if the embryo is represented as a child [odds ratio (OR) adjusted = 3.29, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.62–6.66], P = 0.0009. Representing the embryo as a project prompts patients to choose ‘donation to research’ [OR adjusted = 3.76, 95% CI = 1.56–9.06], P = 0.0032. Respondents are more likely to choose ‘embryo donation’ if they represent the embryo as a potential person [OR adjusted = 3.77, 95% CI = 1.45–9.80], P = 0.0064. Furthermore, patients who benefited from gamete donation are ∼10 times more likely to donate their embryos to another couple [OR adjusted = 10.62, 95% CI = 3.99–28.30], P < 0.0001. For more than half the participants (57%) the decision-making was easy, however, deciding to stop cryopreservation was significantly more difficult than choosing research or embryo donation (P < 0.0001).

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION

Socio-economic status, moral and religious affiliations are known to influence the choice of couples but analyzing these factors was not an aim of the present study.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS

When couples definitely decide to stop their parental project, the embryo symbolic representation remains the main factor that influences the fate of their frozen embryo(s). Moreover, this representation can evolve when influenced by external events and information provided. In order to support patients who are making this difficult decision, it could be helpful to explore this symbolic representation early in the IVF/ICSI procedure, before surplus embryo freezing, as a new tool enhancing the accuracy of counseling.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S)

this study was supported by a grant from the ‘Agence de la biomedicine (ABM)’, the national regulatory ART agency, under the authority of the French Ministry of Health. The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

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