Embryo donation is also often referred to as “embryo adoption,” frequently mirroring the speaker’s views on the pro-choice/pro-life issue. There are two types of donation: anonymous and known. Anonymous donation means the parents’ identifying information is not given to the recipient couple; in a known donation the biological parents are identified. According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, many IVF clinics offer only anonymous embryo donation. In that case, the clinics take responsibility for the matching process, giving the donor couple either no say at all or only a very limited say in the selection of potential parents for their biological child. But most clinics do try to match physical characteristics to the recipient couple, including height, weight, eye and hair color, and ethnicity. Resolve, which received a federal grant to raise public awareness about embryo donation, offers detailed information on its website, www.resolve.org. The organization’s toll-free helpline can be reached at 888-623-0744.
The National Embryo Donation Center, located at the Baptist Hospital for Women in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a not-for-profit organization whose self-declared goal is to give life to the hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in the U.S. The toll free number is 866-585-8549. To find an embryo donation program in your area, visit their website at www.embryodonation.org.
While donating embryos is a selfless and noble act, it also bears risks. Suddenly couples who were once desperate for a child of their own may find themselves the biological parents of a child living elsewhere. It may be difficult to think about strangers raising their biological child. Also, attorneys warn that laws governing embryo donation are still “embryonic,” and there may be problems down the road. Currently very few states have embryo donation laws on the books, even though legal contracts are necessary to cover issues such as: the right of either party to medical information in the future, the rights of the child with respect to anonymity, possible knowledge of biological parents and siblings, legal status of the child and parentage, and the rights of the parties regarding custody and control of the embryos. Resolve recommends that each party—donor and recipient—use separate lawyers.
“The legal approach differs from state to state—even from attorney to attorney,” says Steve Snyder, assisted reproductive attorney at Steven H. Snyder and Associates in Maple Grove, Minnesota. “A clear statute is desperately needed.”
Snyder cautions that many IVF clinics are satisfied with signed embryo transfer papers. But without a separate legal document, the biological parents’ rights and that of their families do not expire, and could be exerted at a later time. Current adoption legislation generally allows for an adopted child to request information about his biological parents, depending on particular state law. At this point children resulting from donated embryos do not have this right. But that could change. Snyder is convinced that once the children born from embryo donation are old enough to demand information about their biological parents, changes in the law will have to follow. It’s very possible that in the future, a couple who once struggled to conceive a child may find themselves answering hard questions from their “donated embryo” child who feels abandoned by his or her biological parents.
Donating Embryos to Science
Many parents wrestle with feelings of guilt when making the decision to let scientists work with their leftover fertilized eggs. Not so Jody Miller, 40, a homemaker and part-time exercise physiologist. Miller and her husband Gregory, 41, the parents of 5-year-old triplets, knew that because of advanced maternal age they would not have the option of donating their embryos to another couple. But simply discarding the embryos wasn’t an option for them, either. “I think we knew all along that we wanted to do something purposeful with them,” says Miller, who spent most of her pregnancy on bedrest, feeling nauseated the entire time.