Residual Embryos: How Decisions Are (Not) Being Made

Guest Blogger Amy Demma, Esq., Law Offices of Amy Demma

About a year ago, I was part of a team at RESOLVE New England that launched a new and very exciting support group intended to allow for a casual exchange of thoughts and concerns related to cryopreserved residual embryos. My colleague and I, a mental health professional experienced with matters related to Blog_photoassisted family building, led the group; each of us having had both professional and personal experience with embryo disposition decision making. We were both eager to connect with other folks who, like me, had struggled with reaching a final decision about excess embryos.

Support groups are not my thing, I had attended only one such meeting prior to kicking-off this new group, I really had no idea what to expect. I’ve had plenty of experience offering legal counsel to infertility patients, I have given countless presentations at RESOLVE (and on behalf of other organizations) around a particular matter for which folks are seeking advice, facts and direction for next steps. I went to the group with a folder filled of information on disposition options, my colleague had delved into the research our mental health community has published on this matter. We were prepared.

What we encountered, though, was a dynamic completely different then anticipated. We met with folks not yet in decision-making mode. We met one couple struggling to meet the monthly storage fees while still uncertain if their family building had been completed. We met another who wondered whether or not long-term storage might prove beneficial should a family member need stem-cells if faced with an illness. Another attendee had not yet completed her first IVF cycle but wanted to be informed about possible left-over embryos. I shared that my husband and I had struggled with concerns that should a tragedy take both of us at the same time, our children would then be left to make a decision about our embryos, a decision he and I were having such a hard time making. We didn’t really explore the options; maybe that will happen in a next meeting, rather, we shared in empathy and support, our personal stories. One woman shared that she felt compelled to be quiet about this matter out of sensitivity for others still on their family building journey. There were expressions of gratitude and also expressions of guilt, mostly though, we talked about indecision.

My colleague took us through a multi-step process in identifying the reasons for our respective procrastination. She offered some incredibly useful tools and some terrific insight as to why this decision is so darn tough. We hoped that clinics would come to understand that many folks simply are stuck. We promised to take this information back to our professional community so that we can all reconsider what resources we might be able to make available to those facing this incredibly complex decision. We promised to hold the group again without asking if any of our attendees would return. We had no idea if we would find ourselves meeting with a whole new group or if the discussions begun in the first meeting would continue into our next. Whatever was to become of this group, after that first meeting, we left understanding its value and the value, for that matter, of the support group forum. I intended to approach a next meeting with my folder of disposition options, my colleague, I expected, would again have her research at the ready. But most importantly, the door would again be opened to any and all who just want to talk about excess embryos, not necessarily decisions, but just to share thoughts.

Fast forward to just about a year later…sadly, I report, the group has not progressed, in fact, we only met one more time. What we found, my colleague and me, is that this topic, this very matter of residual embryos and decision-making around it is hushed one. We found little interest in continued attendance, frankly. We were saddened but determined that we had to continue to offer other opportunities for open and honest discussion….those still dealing with residual embryos and prospective parents hoping to access those embryos for family building through embryo donation, for example, deserve our commitment to continue talking. And so, we will.

About Amy Demma

Amy Demma is a New York licensed attorney and founder of Law Offices of Amy Demma, a practice focused on assisted family building. She is credentialed in Family Mediation through Harvard Law School.

Amy is actively engaged  in the nation’s most established infertility patient advocacy groups and other non-profit and professional organizations.  She sat as the Chair of RESOLVE of New York’s Education Committee, served for many years as Vice President on the board at RESOLVE New England and most recently served as President of the
Executive Committee of the Board of Directors at RESOLVE New England. Amy has been active in the Legal Professionals Group of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine,  the Assisted Reproductive Technology Law Group at the American Bar Association and founded both the New York Fertility Professionals Networking Group as well as the New England Fertility Professionals Networking Group. Most recently, Amy was appointed Legal Advisor to Parents Via Egg Donation.

Considered an industry expert, Amy is a regular lecturer on matters related to assisted family building and both guest speaks and guest blogs through-out the year.  In 2011, Amy launched Egg Donation Today and Embryo Donation Today, two specialized blogs addressing the many complexities of family building with a donor. Most importantly, Amy and her husband are the proud and blessed parents of college-bound twins conceived through In Vitro Fertilization.


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