Embryo Donation

A few weeks ago I was talking to a woman whose doctor suggested she pursue IVF. Because of her firmly-held religious beliefs, she had reservations about what she would do with any unused embryos. When her doctor assured her that any number of families would love to build their families using her embryos, her concerns went away – and I’m happy to report that she and her husband are expecting this spring.

A lot of families struggle with this issue, due to religious and ethical concerns. There are a range of options if you have frozen embryos including discarding the embryos, donating them for research, storing them indefinitely, or continuing to build your family. (Note: if you opt to store embryos indefinitely, you should make provisions for how they should be dealt with in the event of divorce or death in your agreements with your fertility clinic and/or your will.) Embryo donation, sometimes referred to as embryo “adoption,” is relatively new practice and great for families for whom none of the above options feel right.

Families who donate embryos can be motivated by religious or altruistic reasons. Families who receive embryos typically are ones in which the woman is capable of carrying a pregnancy to term, but cannot conceive due to fertility issues with one or both partners. They could pursue egg donation so their child can be genetically related to intended father, but instead pursue embryo donation. Some families express that if the child cannot be biologically related to both parents, they prefer that the child be biologically related to neither parent.

There are an increasing number of agencies that facilitate matches between donating and receiving families. The agencies can help to screen donating and receiving families. Some agencies require that receiving families complete the equivalent of an adoption home study, others have lower requirements. There are agencies that are informed by certain religious perspectives, and others that are not. As with egg and sperm donation, there are a range of options available in terms of pre- and post-donation contact. Some donating families want periodic updates about the child born to the receiving family, while others do not. Donation agreements, where both the donating and receiving families have separate counsel, are strongly recommended. Other options for embryo donation include private arrangements or donations facilitated by your fertility clinic.

Want to learn more? Katie Couric featured embryo donation on her talk show in October of last year – watch the segment here.

For a Creating a Family radio program on embryo donation, click here: Medical and Legal Issues in Embryo Donation