Disposition intentions of elective egg freezers toward their surplus frozen oocytes: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Donating to research was the first disposition preference for actual and potential elective egg freezers (EEFs). One-third of actual EEFs were unsure, and one-third of potential EEFs would donate to others.

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VOLUME 116, ISSUE 6, P1601-1619


Lucy E. Caughey, B.Behav.Sc. Honours (Psychology), Sarah Lensen, Ph.D., Katherine M. White, Ph.D., Michelle Peate, Ph.D.



To examine the disposition outcomes and disposition intentions of elective egg freezers (EEFs) toward their surplus frozen oocytes and the psychosocial determinants underlying these.


A systematic review and meta-analysis.


Not applicable.


Actual EEFs (women with oocytes in storage), potential EEFs (women investigating elective oocyte cryopreservation or about to freeze their oocytes), and women of reproductive age (women in the community aged ≥18 years).


A systematic review was undertaken and electronically searched MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO on the Ovid platform for conference abstracts and peer-reviewed articles, published in English after January 1, 2010. A search strategy combined synonyms for oocyte, cryopreservation, donation, disposition, elective, and attitude. Eligible studies assessed disposition outcomes (how an oocyte was disposed of) and disposition intentions (how women intend to dispose of an oocyte) and/or the psychosocial determinants underlying disposition outcomes and intentions. The Joanna Briggs Institute Prevalence Tool was used to assess the risk of bias. A meta-analysis using random effects was applied to pool proportions of women with similar disposition intentions toward their oocytes.

Main Outcome Measure(s)

Disposition outcomes and intentions toward surplus frozen oocytes: donate to research; donate to others; discard; unsure. Psychosocial determinants (beliefs, attitudes, barriers, and facilitators) of disposition outcomes and intentions.


A total of 3,560 records were identified, of which 22 (17 studies) met the inclusion criteria (8 studies from Europe, 7 from North America, and 2 from Asia). No studies reported on past oocyte disposition outcomes. Seventeen studies reported on the future disposition intentions of 5,446 women. Only 2 of the 17 studies reported on the psychosocial determinants of oocyte disposition intentions. There was substantial heterogeneity in the pooled results, which was likely a result of the significant variation in methodology.
Actual EEFs were included in eight studies (n = 873), of whom 53% (95% confidence interval [CI], 44–63; I2, 87%) would donate surplus oocytes to research, 31% (95% CI, 23–40; I2, 72%) were unsure, 26% (95% CI, 17–38; I2, 92%) would donate to others, and 12% (95% CI, 6–21; I2, 88%) would discard their eggs. Psychosocial determinants: One study reported that 50% of these women were aware of friends and/or family having difficulty conceiving, which may have contributed to their willingness to donate to others. Potential EEFs were included in 4 studies (n = 645), of whom 38% (95% CI, 28–50; I2, 84%) would donate to research, 32% (95% CI, 17–51; I2, 91%) would donate to others, 29% (95% CI, 17–44; I2, 89%) would discard, and 7% (95% CI, 1–27; I2, 77%) were unsure. Psychosocial determinants: No studies. Women of reproductive age were included in 5 studies (n = 3,933), of whom 59% (95% CI, 48–70; I2, 97%) would donate to research and 46% (95% CI, 35–57; I2, 98%) would donate to others. “Unsure” and “discard” were not provided as response options. Psychosocial determinants: One study reported that the facilitators for donation to others included a family member or friend in need, to help others create a family, financial gain, to further science, and control or input over the selection of recipients. Barriers for donation included fear of having a biological child they do not know or who is raised by someone they know.


No studies reported on the disposition outcomes of past EEFs. Disposition intentions varied across the three groups; however, “donating to research” was the most common disposition preference. Notably, the second disposition preference for one-third of actual EEFs was “unsure” and for one-third of potential EEFs was “donate to others.” There were limited studies for actual and potential EEFs, and only two studies that explored the psychosocial determinants of oocyte disposition intentions. Additionally, these data suggest that disposition decisions change as women progress on their egg freezing journey, highlighting the importance of ongoing contact with the fertility team as intentions may change over time. More research is needed to understand the psychosocial determinants of oocyte disposition decisions so fertility clinics can provide EEFs with the support and information they need to make informed decisions about their stored eggs and reduce the level of uncertainty reported among EEFs and the potential risk of psychological distress and regret.

Clinical Trial Registration Number

PROSPERO 2020: CRD42020202733

Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility® is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.