The increasing number of families dealing with infertility issues has led to new problems, including the existence of hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos created through in-vitro fertilization. Couples who successfully give birth after IVF grapple with the question of what to do with remaining embryos. Embryos, once highly prized now exist in a state of suspended animation until genetic parents make a decision on what to do with them. They can donate them to other couples, destroy them or donate them to science.
Many couples are opting to donate these embryos to other couples struggling with infertility, giving them a chance to experience pregnancy and give birth. Many donor families are opting to release their embryo’s to recipient families in a manner similar to open adoption. Donor families choose the recipient family and often make arrangements for future contact if a child is born from the donation.
One of the easily overlooked, but vitally important aspects of an embryo donation is the existence of genetic siblings. A donated frozen embryo is almost always part of a larger group of embryos created by a couple struggling with infertility. An embryo implanted in and born from a recipient mother, therefore, is likely to share genetic material with sister(s) and/or brother(s) in the donor family, which is why many families want to have more say in the donation process.
The donor family fills the role most commonly associated with “birthparents” in traditional adoptions. This may be why some agencies call this embryo adoption instead of embryo donation, but this name is misleading. Donor families have the legal right to custody of their frozen embryos the law views donor parents’ right to custody more as ownership than as part of parental rights and obligations. Embryo adoption is not legally an “adoption” as recognized under the laws of most states, and is governed by the FDA as tissue donation.
Unlike adoption where parental rights are terminated after the child is born, transfer of custody of the frozen embryos is done prior to implantation. Because of this the recipients of the frozen embryos are therefore considered the child’s legal parents at birth. No additional legal proceedings are necessary for the recipient or donor families to perform. Secure full legal and physical custody to the child belongs to the recipient parents.
To be eligible for embryo donation programs the recipient mother must be capable of carrying an embryo and giving birth to the child. If she is unable to carry a pregnancy to term, some programs allow the recipient parents to use a gestational surrogate.