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Embryo Donation: An Introduction

Embryo donation is a new path to parenthood that allows the opportunity for a couple that has struggled with infertility to experience the wonders of pregnancy and the joy of giving birth. Couples often reflect that building a family in this way is relationally similar to adopting a child at the earliest possible stage of life.  This is why the term embryo adoption is sometimes used interchangeably with the term embryo donation.

What is embryo donation?
When couples undergo in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive a child, often they have embryos (egg and sperm joined together) that are not used. These remaining embryos often are cryopreserved, or frozen, and put into storage for later use. Once an embryo has been cryopreserved, decisions must be made on their behalf.  The embryos could be used in a future family building cycle by the family; thawed and discarded; submitted to science for research purposes; or donated to another couple that is struggling with infertility. 

Many are blessed with the birth of children following IVF.  If they are parenting as many children as they feel called or capable to, but still have remaining embryos, they can choose embryo donation. Through embryo donation, these individuals donate their remaining, unused embryos to a recipient, thus helping another family grow while supporting the life of the embryo. More than 3,000 children have been born through embryo donation.

If a couple has experienced failed medical treatment or miscarriage during their infertility journey, is embryo donation still even a realistic possibility?
Yes. Many couples that have suffered miscarriage or who have been unsuccessful in achieving a genetic pregnancy or birth of their own, successfully build their family through embryo donation. Nationally, on average, 35 percent of embryo transfers result in birth.  In comparison, couples who attempt to become pregnant in a non-medically assisted cycle have an approximate success rate of 20 to 25 percent.

How does embryo donation work?
First, a woman must consult with her reproduction endocrinologist to confirm that she is able to physically proceed through embryo donation and  carry a baby to term. Physically, the embryo donation process is similar to proceeding through the second half of an IVF cycle (no egg stimulation is necessary). Assessment, education and on-going support should be an essential part of every embryo donation plan, both for the embryo donors and the embryo recipients.  Included in this process is often the opportunity for both parties involvment in the matching process and in many cases determination about communication exchange and openness planning.

Why is it called embryo “donation” and not embryo “adoption?”
Legally, the term “adoption” is used to refer to the placement of a child after birth. Since the embryos are donated before a child is born, the law does not regard the donation under the same laws as adoption. Legal agreements and contractual law are used to govern the process of embryo donation.

Can the genetic parents change their minds at any point in the embryo donation process?
Embryo donors have the ability to change the course of action in the embryo donation process up until they legally authorize embryo donation. Once the embryos have been donated, the genetic parents have no legal claim to any children who might result from the donation. The contract agreement and relinquishment forms are legally binding between the two families.

Is it possible for there to be continued medical history updates or communication exchange  between the genetic and adoptive parents in embryo donation?
 Communication exchange possibilities in embryo donation are similar to the wide varieties of  openness options that are available in traditional infant adoption. The genetic donors and parents agree upon a level of communication and openness that they are both comfortable with continuing. Both embryo donors and recipients are able to choose their desired amount of communication prior to being matched. Matches can therefore be made with these preferences in mind. Once a match is made, a contract is developed and signed based on the agreed upon terms of both couples.

  The Snow Baby Video follows the journey of two recipient couples and an embryo donor couple.  It provides a great overview of the embryo donation process, explores the emotional journey and decision making paths of all the couples and reflects on the relationship connections that are established between recipients, donors and their respective children.

Our Learning Center provides education about infertility and family building challenges, in vitro fertilization, and embryo cyropreservationThese topics provide an important background to embryo donation.