Objectives: This paper describes a recently identified conception of the cryopreserved embryo as a symbol of one's relationship (SOR).
Methods: A questionnaire was sent together with the embryo disposition decision (EDD) form to patients for whom embryos were cryopreserved at the department in Ghent, Belgium. We collected data on patient characteristics, their EDD attitudes and the reasons for their willingness or unwillingness to consider each of the disposition options (donation to others for reproduction, donation for science and discarding).
Results: The SOR view was found more often in patients who were less educated and whose last treatment was less than 3 years ago. Viewing the embryo as a SOR was not linked to more difficult decision making, but to more emotionally loaded decision making. In particular, patients with this view more often reported feelings of grief. This view was also linked to the outcome of the decision making process.
Conclusion: The conception of the embryo as a SOR is part of an affective attitude towards embryos that has an impact on patients' disposition decisions. Alongside patients' values and principles, it is important that counselors acknowledge and clarify patients' affective conceptualizations.