In brief: In-vitro fertilization and frozen embryos

In brief: In-vitro fertilization and frozen embryos


  • In case of sexual reproduction, the beginning of development of an offspring is fertilization of male and female gametes into zygote (a fertilized egg or embryo).
  • The zygote (embryo) is then implanted into the uterus where it develops into full-fledged organism in various stages.
  • From the day of fertilization (union of male and female gamete) up till 8 weeks the undeveloped zygote is called embryo.


  • Infertility may occur due to various reasons
    • Insufficient production of sperm for zygote formation
    • Insufficient production of oocyte
    • Failure to implant embryo into uterus

In-vitro fertilization

  • One way of assisted reproductive technology is IVF
    • In in-vitro fertilization, the fertilization of egg occurs externally outside the body.
    • The externally developed fertilized zygote or embryo is then implanted inside the uterus for full-fledged development into human.


In focus: Smuggling of frozen embryos

What are frozen embryos?

  • The embryos so developed in-vitro are sometimes frozen and stored for future use.
  • The embryos are generally stored in liquid nitrogen or nitrogen vapour at a temperature below -190°C.


Reasons for storing embryos

  • Some couples store embryos for conceiving at a later date. (Implanting in the uterus)
  • In-vitro fertilization is done choosing desirable gametes. (say a male European gamete)
  • Patients with terminal illness like cancer may store gametes or even embryos before they undergo a radiation therapy.
  • Couples may store frozen embryos to continue in-vitro fertilization in countries where IVF procedures are cheaper and cost effective like in India.
  • Further some couples may choose to store frozen embryos in order to continue the IVF procedure in countries where commercial surrogacy is allowed.


Import of frozen embryos

  • India has emerged as the surrogacy hub of the world since 2002.
  • There has been rampant misuse of frozen embryos leading to illegal surrogacy in India because of the low cost of IVF procedure here.
  • Until 2015, import of frozen embryos or gametes was allowed in India subject to a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).


Law governing import of embryos in India

  • In order to stop this practice, commercial surrogacy was banned in India when the parliament passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 recently.
  • Further import of human embryo is “prohibited” except for research purposes from 2015.


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