Embryo adoption is a type of fertility assistance using third party reproduction. It occurs when embryos remaining after a couple’s IVF treatments are given to another couple, generally without compensation. Once the intended parents adopt the embryos, they are placed into the recipient’s uterus in hopes of achieving pregnancy and childbirth. The child that is born is legally the son or daughter of the woman who gives birth – just like with egg or sperm donation. Most of the time, a couple will choose to donate embryos after they have successfully carried one or more pregnancies to term and feel their family is complete.
Embryo adoption can be arranged on an anonymous or an open basis; once in a while, a “semi-open” arrangement takes place in which both parties know a certain amount of information about each other but not any identifying specifics. Both couples often prefer to have this layer of protection and privacy in place.
Once IVF became common practice, clinicians discovered a way to preserve (freeze) embryos and keep them healthy for later implantation. This process is useful because it keeps women from having to undergo multiple egg harvesting procedures. Around the same time, egg donation was developed. It wasn’t long before there were reports of successful pregnancies via cryopreserved embryos. As early as the mid-1980s, the term “embryo adoption” was also being used in legal literature.
Before egg donation and embryo adoption, thousands of couples had adoption as their only option when facing infertility concerns. Scientific advances allowed for open discussion about embryo adoption and transfer as another possible fertility treatment. Many people see embryo adoption as very similar to traditional adoption, with the exception that the woman experienced pregnancy and childbirth herself.
Embryo adoption can be carried out by national organizations or by individual fertility clinics in the local area where the donor and recipient live. For a national program, genetic parents who want to donate their embryos can select adoptive parents from a pool of pre-screened applicants. Or, the organization may match recipient parents with donor parents listing similar preferences. At this point, ownership of the embryo is transferred directly to the adoptive parents from the genetic ones. The two sets of parents may negotiate any terms regarding the amount of contact desired in the future.
Once both couples agree to the conditions of the arrangement, the embryo is transferred to the adoptive mother’s clinic for implantation. Embryo adoption frequently costs less than a more traditional adoption and offers hopeful couples a safe and effective way to achieve their dreams of parenthood.