In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments often result in the creation of extra embryos. If more embryos are produced for and by a couple than they will be able to use, the extra embryos are frozen for future use. If frozen embryos remain after a couple’s family is complete, they have three options — to donate the embryos to research, to donate them to other infertile couples, or to thaw and discard the embryos.
“Embryo donation has been such a gift. Our daughter’s name, Makenna, actually means ‘the gift of happiness.’ We recently transferred the last of our three embryos–and found out we’re expecting a second baby this fall!” —LAURA
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 35 percent of frozen embryo transfers result in live births. The chance of achieving a single birth is 26 percent. (The CDC cites slightly higher success rates for fresh embryo transfers.)
Before the search for embryo donation begins, intended parents need time to process their disappointment about not having their own biological child. Before undergoing the embryo transfer, they will likely be required to undergo a mental health evaluation to address these issues. They will also discuss options for disclosure, and contact with the donor couple.
The search for a donor — beginning the embryo donation journey
Some donor couples prefer to choose their own recipients, and post advertisements or notices in online forums. Some fertility clinics have donor embryo programs that match unused embryos with current patients. Other programs act as matchmakers between donors and recipients; these often serve a larger geographic area.
In general, embryo donations are either anonymous or known. In anonymous donation, the IVF clinic finds a match, and the donor couple has limited say in the selection process. In known embryo donation, the donor couple may select the recipient(s), or the clinic may make the match but offer the donor couple detailed information about the recipient(s) and whether a pregnancy resulted. Known donations may also include periodic updates about the child.
Some programs refer to the transfer of embryos as “embryo adoption,” and require home studies. However, this is not a legal requirement. Such programs often have restrictions regarding recipients’ marital status, religion, and sexual orientation.
The embryo transfer process
The recipient will undergo a thorough medical evaluation to make sure there are no medical issues that would prevent a successful pregnancy. Medications will be administered for several weeks to prepare the uterus for the embryo transfer. Once the embryos are thawed, they are transferred via a small catheter that is inserted through the vagina and cervix into the uterus. The recipient and doctor will decide how many embryos to use at one time to minimize the risk of a multiple pregnancy.
Recipients generally do not pay for the initial IVF procedures that created the embryos. However, they may have to pay for additional testing, and for storage and transportation. Legal and program costs vary, depending on the state and agency involved. And of course, recipients will have to cover their own medical costs. Embryo donation programs are usually less expensive than egg donation programs.
Laws vary from state to state. Therefore, it is important that you work with an experienced attorney in your area to ensure that all parties are offered legal protections and documents are in place prior to embryo transfer. As long as a proper legal process is followed, the recipient will have parental rights for the resulting child.