Debating elective single embryo transfer after in vitro fertilization: a plea for a context sensitive approach
The number of embryos transferred after in vitro fertilization (IVF) have been a topic of debate for over a decade now. Due to the risk associated with multiple pregnancy, there has been a global effort at reducing the multiple pregnancy rates to a minimum while maintaining an acceptable level of successful IVF pregnancy rate. Elective single embryo transfer (eSET) is advocated in most European countries. In Belgium and Sweden, eSET is mandatory for couples with a good prognosis. However, despite clinical recommendations and policy statements, patients in clinical practice frequently do request for the transfer of multiple embryos in order to have twins. Such requests conflict with policy guidelines and create an ethical dilemma for physicians: Should the physician do as the couple requests, and there with respect the autonomy of patients, or adhere to medical policy that takes the health of the mother and children at heart? This article provides an exploration of the arguments found in the literature that plays a role in the discussion on this topic and eventually argues that what a physician should do depends on the specificities of the context in which patients and physicians are implicated. These contextual issues can be taken into account in a shared decision‑making procedure, which allows reflections and the responsibilities of both patients and physicians to be attended in decision about assisted reproduction.
Keywords: Autonomy, Embryo transfer, In vitro fertilization, Multiple pregnancy, Values and culture