Embryo donation is a procedure that enables embryos either that were created by couples undergoing fertility treatment or that were created from donor sperm and donor eggs specifically for the purpose of donation to be transferred to infertile patients in order to achieve a pregnancy or to a researcher to further the study of reproductive medicine.
Some use the term “embryo donation” to refer strictly to anonymous embryo donation, and “embryo adoption” to refer to an open relationship. Others use the terms interchangeably because, regardless of the relationship, a clinical assisted reproduction procedure is involved, and the recipient couple is preparing to raise a child not genetically related to them. Lawyers who assist those trying to acquire an embryo state the term “embryo adoption” is a misnomer because the transfer of an embryo is handled as property transfer. Abortion rights advocates, advocates of embryonic stem cell research, and members of the fertility industry object to referring to the transfer as an “adoption” because they feel it gives an embryo the same status as a child. Most doctors describe the process as “embryo donation”.
Embryo donation can be carried out as a service of an individual infertility clinic (where donor and recipient families typically live in the local area and are both patients of the same clinic) or by any of several national organizations. The process described below is typical of an “adoption-agency-based” national program.
Genetic parents entering an embryo adoption program are offered the benefits of selecting the adoptive parents from the agency’s pool of prescreened applicants. Embryo ownership is transferred directly from the genetic parents to the adoptive parents. Genetic parents may be updated by the agency when a successful pregnancy is achieved and when a child(ren) is/are born. The genetic parents and adoptive parents may negotiate their own terms for future contact between the families.
Prospective adoptive parents entering a program complete an application, and may also complete a traditional adoption home study, fertility or adoption education, background and health checks and in some cases, depending on the requirements of both the home study and placement agencies, court certification of adoption eligibility. Their completed paperwork and fees are submitted to the placement agency, which reviews their file. Some agencies allow the donors to choose the recipient while others match the recipient parents with similar preferences including desired level of openness post-adoption. Genetic and prospective parents are then given the chance to approve the match. Once all parties agree, the embryo is transferred to the adoptive mother’s clinic for a frozen embryo transfer.
None of the procedures involved with embryo adoption by either the genetic or adopting parents are legal requirements of embryo transfer. The process is entered into willingly by both sets of parents because of the added safeguards, knowledge and communication offered to both parties by the system.