What is the ruling on freezing embryos that are left over from IVF cycles and preserving them for later use?
Embryo cryopreservation or embryo freezing is one of the revolutionary breakthroughs in artificial reproduction. This procedure is conducted in IVF labs.
During an IVF cycle, embryos that are surplus to the immediate requirements of the treatment are generated. The viable embryos that are not transferred to the uterus of the woman undergoing IVF treatment are frozen and stored for future use. This allows a couple to repeat another IVF cycle whenever necessary such as when a woman does not become pregnant in the first cycle or when the couple wishes to have a future pregnancy without having to undergo another cycle of hormone stimulation and egg collection.
Freezing embryos for future use, as mentioned in the question, involves no legal prohibition because it is considered one of the complementary processes to IVF that was sanctioned by assemblies of Muslim jurists provided the couple is married.
IVF is one of several kinds of fertility treatments. Since the principle concerning treatment and medication is permissibility, it goes that complementary or adjuvant therapies are likewise permissible. The reduction of the exorbitant costs of multiple IVF attempts renders embryo cryopreservation a priori permissible. However, this permissibility is premised on the following:
1- The sperm and ovum must come from a married couple and the fertilized egg must be transferred to the uterus of the wife while the couple is still married. It is impermissible to transfer a fertilized egg to the uterus of a woman after her marriage ends by either the death of her husband or divorce.
2- The fertilized egg must be stored in a safe, secure, and carefully monitored environment to prevent any mix-ups, intentional or otherwise, with other stored embryos.
3- The fertilized egg must not be transferred to the uterus of any woman other than the owner of the egg, whether through donation or compensation.
4- Cryopreservation must not involve any risks or side effects such as congenital defects or mental retardation to babies that are born from frozen embryos due to the factors they are subjected to during storage.
And God Almighty knows best.