Excess embryos? Embryo donation to other patients is an option.

June 22, 2010Carole 3 Comments »

If you’ve completed your family and still have “excess” embryos in storage at your clinic, you have a choice to make. Storage indefinitely is usually not an option unless you move your embryos to a long term storage facility like ReproTech and are willing to pay for storage forever.

Many patients choose to thaw and discard their embryos. Some choose to donate their embryos to other couples or to stem cell research. A few patients can’t or won’t make a decision and leave it up to their fertilily clinic to dispose of their abandoned embryos in some fashion.

Using funds from a federal grant, the National Embryo Donation Center has created an Awareness Campaign for Embryo Adoption. The disclaimer on their site explains that “Materials available in this section have been developed and disseminated by the National Embryo Donation Center, in collaboration with the Baptist Health System Foundation, with grant support from the US Department of Health and Human Services under grant EAAPA941002. The views expressed are solely those of the NEDC and its partners and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Department.”

The ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a report strongly objecting to the term embryo “adoption” as inaccurate and misleading. Their point is that donating an embryo to another person is a medical procedure, subject to the rules and regulations for medical procedures, not subject to the legal and social work regulations associated with adoption of an actual human being.

On the other hand, in spite of ASRM’s insistence that donation of embryos is strictly a medical procedure,  you will find embryo donation programs on the internet which will  arrange “open” embryo adoptions, allowing the donor and recipient to actually share the future child like in traditional open adoptions of existing children. Some embryo adoption agencies will allow the donor to choose the recipient of their embryos.

How to donate your excess embryo to another person or couple.

Through your fertility program: Your own fertility program may allow you to donate your embryos directly to your own doctor’s practice and he will anonymously match your donated embryos with one of his patients on his own embryo adoption waiting list.

If donation to your own program is not an option, you may be able to find a fertility clinic that accepts donor embryos. Many programs offer embryo donation in their menu of services. If you look up a clinic in the CDC Fertility Clinic tables, “Embryo Donation (Yes or No) is indicated at the bottom of the clinic report. A previous blog discussed how to use the CDC interactive site to look up specific clinics.Sometimes the CDC listing only means that the program will work with embryo matching services like the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoptions to provide embryo adoption services to his patients but he may not want you to donate the embryos directly to his practice to hold until a match is made.

Through an Embryo Adoption Agency: Unfortunately,  Consumers Reports hasn’t compared the various donor matching agencies so you are on your own in finding an agency. The National Embryo Donation Center has  a detailed FAQs page which explains, among other things, how to donate your embryos.

When you donate your embryos, carefully review any consent forms or other documents before you sign them. As an embryo donor, there should not be any expenses or charges to you. If your own clinic doesn’t store donor embryos, you may have to transfer them to another storage location. Find out who pays for the transfer and storage. It may be prudent to ask an attorney to look over the donation paperwork if it is unclear what future responsibilities you might have and what rights you have given up with embryo donation.

FDA expectations for donation of embryos. The FDA has strict regulations for screening of potential egg and sperm donors but has relatively few screening expectations for sexually intimate couples who produced embryos for their own use and then later decide to donate them. As a prospective embryo donor, you and your partner will likely be asked to undergo an after-the-fact donor screening process which can include a medical social risk questionnaire, physical exams and blood tests for a list of infectious diseases. However, if you are unable to complete this screening, the FDA will not step in and prevent your donation of embryos. In drafting the final FDA rules, input from NEDC’s Dr. Jeffrey Keenan was instrumental in relaxing the donor rules for embryo donation. You can read Dr. Keenen’s correspondence with the FDA here.

A few FDA rules remain. The FDA will expect that the embryos have spent at least 180 days (six months)  in cryostorage to reduce the risk that you or your partner will show symptoms of an infectious disease that you acquired just previous to embryo creation. The FDA also requires that the embryos have paperwork declaring that the original screening was not required and whether the full screening was repeated or not.

If you used a fully screened egg or sperm donor to produce the embryos with your partner, the same relaxed FDA policy applies, unless you find out that the initial donor screening was flawed and your donor actually should have been rejected and not used to create your embryos. In that case, you would not be able to donate your embryos anonymously without a special exemption from the regulations granted by the FDA. If you plan to donate the same embryos to someone you know, the FDA may allow the donation but requires special labeling and information be conveyed to the physician involved in the transfer procedure.

Although not required by the FDA, the embryo donation program will generally ask embryo donors to provide a three generation medical history to the recipient.

Open versus Closed Embryo Adoption. Whether you prefer to donate your embryos anonymously or want to have a connection with the children those embryos might become, there are programs that will offer you either option. Embryo adoption is a relatively new concept and so litigation and case law in this area is generally non-existant. Unlike the Sibling Donor Registry, I am unaware of a similar embryo donor registry to help children conceived through embryo adoption find their biological parents. But given that some children conceived through embryo adoption will likely want to make that biological connection in the future, I expect someone will try to facilitate that future need–perhaps through a DNA profile??

Embryo donation is easily the most complicated and least regulated option for disposition of your excess embryos but it might be the choice for you.



© 2010 – 2011, Carole. All rights reserved.

3 Responses to this entry

  • cna training Says:

    found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  • Passing the CNA Exam Says:

    Great, I never knew this, thanks.

  • Sheila Riche Says:

    Great article! Yes, open arrangements are an option and you can choose the recipient family. This was important for our family, when we placed our embryos for adoption, because those embryos are 100% genetically related to our children and we wanted any children resulting from the adoption to know who we are. We also prefer the term “adoption”, because “donating” seems to be such a harsh and cruel word, when dealing with the possibility of a child. How would you like it if you were told “You were donated to our family?” You can donate money, clothes, food, etc., but I think more respect should be shown for the “potential” children that will result from embryo adoption and/or donation. I personally don’t care if the arrangement is done through a clinic, agency, or lawyer, but I strongly feel that using the term “adoption” is the most appropriate, when thinking of the “potential” children. I offer support on my website to Placing and/or Donating families.

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