Get Used to Embryo Adoption

Couples who do IVF are often faced with the agonizing question of what to do with their leftover embryos: discard them, give them to research, leave them in storage indefinitely—or let them find a new home

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Reproductive Science Center

Kelly Burke and Liam James. Nine-month-old Liam is the product of a donated embryo, which had been frozen for more than 19 years.

What do you do when you undergo in-vitro fertilization, conceive a child and find yourself left with extra embryos? One Oregon couple kept theirs in the freezer for 19 years after having a set of twins via IVF, in case they wanted to expand their family more someday. But, year after year, they didn’t move forward and instead paid their annual storage bill of several hundred dollars. Finally, they decided to give their four remaining embryos to Kelly Burke, 45, a single woman from Virginia. Two were thawed and transferred to Burke’s uterus, and she’s now a mom to smiley 9-month-old Liam James.

This story is remarkable on many levels. First, the embryo that became Liam is believed to be one of the oldest ever that was thawed after being frozen for so long. His siblings who were conceived at the same time are now college age. Second, the way Liam came into this world is part of a growing trend of embryo donation that represents a promising solution to our national problem of hundreds of thousands of leftover IVF embryos languishing in storage.

(MORE: How Healthy Are IVF Babies?)

As the use of IVF to treat infertility rises rapidly—more than 154,000 cycles were performed in 2011, compared with roughly 146,000 in 2010, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology—couples are often faced with the agonizing decision of what to do with their leftover embryos. Do they donate them, give them to research, discard them or leave them in storage indefinitely?

In theory, embryo donation seems like the ideal solution: You have embryos you don’t want. Other people desperately want them. But of course, it’s hard to for many couples to get past knowing that someone else would be raising their biological children (or their siblings unknowingly mating with them—a risk known as “accidental incest”).

One survey of more than 1,000 patients from nine U.S. fertility clinics who had extra embryos found that nearly 60% said they were “very unlikely” to donate them to another couple trying to have a baby; only 7% were “very likely” to consider this option. “It was the idea that their child was walking around, and they couldn’t ensure it was having a great life,” says lead author Dr. Anne Drapkin Lyerly, an ob-gyn and associate director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “If they couldn’t raise that child, many felt that the responsible choice was to make sure they didn’t become children in someone else’s life. One woman told me, ‘I’d rather have them destroyed than born.’ ”

(MORE: Study Clarifies Link Between Fertility Treatments and Neurological Problems In Kids)

But more and more people are deciding to have them born into other families. In 2011, there were 1,019 transfer cycles from donated embryos, which is up from 933 cycles in 2010. More than one third of those led to the birth of at least one child, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Couples who want to donate embryos have two options: They can go through a fertility clinic or an agency, and the experiences are quite different. For example, at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York City, which oversees about 20 such arrangements a year, donor couples allow the clinic to post information about their embryos’ genetic characteristics on a website. Interested recipients undergo physical and psychological screening. If it’s a match, the embryos change hands anonymously, and the recipients pay about $5,000 for the medical costs. However, at many agencies, donor couples are allowed to choose the recipients, who must undergo long waits, extensive vetting and home visits. The donations are called embryo “adoptions” and can cost thousands more.

Embryo adoption is a controversial term, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recently issued an opinion arguing that the term should be reserved for actual living children. Yet the question remains whether allowing donors to have control over who gets their embryos would help them feel better about giving them up. “Our patients view it as adoption,” insists Stephanie Moyers, marketing manager for the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, which stores some 300 sets (ranging from 1 to 20 embryos) from clinics. In fact, she says more than half of donors prefer an “open” process—which can range from asking to be notified of a pregnancy and a child’s milestones to regular contact and visits. “In one case, the donor and recipients families go to Disneyworld together every year,” she says. “The twins are five now.”

(MORE: Stress Doesn’t Hurt Chances of Success With IVF)

As the practice grows, there are kinks to be worked out about which approaches work best for donors, recipients and the resulting children. And there are broader social consequences to be considered—namely the more than 100,000 children in foster care whose average age is seven to eight who might end up even more likely to be overlooked for adoption.

Yet, as our national stockpile continues to multiply, IVF patients are going to think more and more about embryo donation as an alternative to indecision. That includes Liam’s mom, who has two embryos left, donated by another woman, the fate of which she must now decide.

68 comments
LeeleeI
LeeleeI

I was the recipient of an embryo donation through a great clinic and I have been involved with PVED and the Donor Sibling Registry but I do think of it as a kind of adoption (despite what they stated).  I learned as much as I could from the clinic about the biological parents and my doctor did what she could to find a "match."  My son from this process is an adored member of the family with a brother who looks very much like him (possibly by accident, but maybe because my doctor and the clinic matched us).  I love this child just like my "bio" child and feel that the process of carrying him and nursing, etc. really did help with the bonding.  It makes sense because oxytocin is the love and bonding hormone and pregnancy, childbirth and nursing give you a giant sized dose of the this essential hormone and make the nurturing so natural.  I also looked into Fostadopt and would have been very happy with that, too.  I am not one of those people who needs to have someone completely share my DNA to be my child... I could have been happy with a child of another race, etc. as well (or at least that is what I believe to be true).

futurej
futurej

Lot of crapola being thrown around here - Yes, there are thousands, if not millions of orphans, unwanted and foster children, but you don't JUST ADOPT. "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS JUST ADOPT!"  Adoption procedures are much more complicated than IVF, You can't just adopt because you want a baby. Most of the times you have to be Catholic, married, hetero, white, rich, educated, have a stable income, etc.. Anyone else not on that category will find themselves in a hell of a battle. You can't just adopt. 

pved
pved


Wow – this topic is such a hot button isn’t it?

First of all I want to clear up a few things.The process the author has written about is referred to as “Embryo Donation” You cannot adopt an embryo. You can adopt children.You can adopt pets. But you can’t adopt an embryo because it’s not a viable life form. If you marched into a court of law with your adoption papers right before an embryo transfer the judge would send you on your way. 

And I know - it all depends on when you think like begins - but legally it's embryo adoption.

There's also the money aspect – there are those places like NEDC who feel strongly that embryo donation is truly adoption. Some "embryo adoption" agencies who require all intended parents to go through background checks, home studys, share their financial statments, and charge huge administrative fee's to adopt embryos. Sounds like highway robbery to me. There are those who cleave to embryo adoptionbecause they have open donations.Here’s a news flash you can have open donation (which many couples and singles participate in) and it’s still an embryo donation cycle.Just because you know the donating family doesn’t mean its an adoption.Just because a family selects you to receive their embryos doesn’t mean it’s an adoption.

Embryo donation come in all shapes and sizes.Some folks choose to stay in close contact, exchanging photos, letters, and even sometimes vacationing or visiting one another during the holidays raising their respective families as siblings – while others do not.It’s very individual. 

There are always going to be those who are not supportive or even against any sort of infertility treatment and that we should all “just adopt”.Guess what?Adoption isn’t for everyone.For many women experiencing a pregnancy is a rite of passage.And really who are we to judge how we create our families?I mean really? We all march to the beat of our own drummer -- we believe or not believe how we want to faith wise.  We make our own choices regarding who we choose as our partners, or if we choose to remain single.  We choose what profession we wish to embark upon. We choose where we want to live, what we want to eat, and what we choose to do on our free time.

So why should we not have the ability to choose how we wish to create our family without those in the world pointing their fingers at us and telling is what we are doing is wrong, or unnatural, or not okay.

There are many many individuals in this world who have no business bringing children into the world – but they do it the old fashioned way every single day.There are unwanted pregnancies that occur ever single day globally.

What I can tell you is that each and every child born through egg donation, egg donation, or sperm donation, surrogacy, or any other sort of infertility treatment is a baby who has been thought about, dreamed about, yearned for, and incredibly planned for a very long time.

If you would like to learn more about egg donation or embryo donation you can find lots of great information at www.pved.org and we have a great article about embryo donation at: http://tpvedo.blogspot.com/2009/09/embryo-donation-and-embryo-adoption-how.html

Marna Gatlin, Founder, Parents Via Egg Donation

ivf_info
ivf_info

@blahblahblog3 WOW. Gross is right. One in particular... Clueless & closed-minded (to be polite). Thanks for jumping in there!

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

@ivf_info if I had to guess most of the ppl commenting have 1,000 kids and are on welfare.

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

I'm so sad to read these comments and know there are people in the world that think like this. 

stiners10
stiners10

Reading some of these remarks just got me so mad. Why is anyone talking about how there is so many kids that need adopting? That makes no difference in this situation. People that are looking at embryo donation usually have gone through so much to try to conceive on their own but it hasn't happened. Yes they want a baby but they also want to go through the entire pregnancy and birth experience. I think this is amazing and wonderful. There is no selfishness in this. It is horrific that so many children are in foster care that can and can not be adopted. People need to THINK before they have sex and reproduce. Responsible people do not have their children and lose them. We need to focus on that as a problem that needs addressing and fixed. It has nothing to do with embryo adoption/donation. ...always someone out there to try to ruin a great story...

RekindlinKin
RekindlinKin

@FauxClaud I do think more children are left in foster care while couples N even single ppl who want children explore other options..sad :(

RekindlinKin
RekindlinKin

@FauxClaud Wow there are just so many facets to how a child is brought about in this world today....so different than past generations.

gsmwc02
gsmwc02

@FauxClaud You need to look at yourself in the mirror if that's your attitude.

FauxClaud
FauxClaud

You don't get it. Someone can and usually does find anything to be offended. It's a useless folly to try to avoid. @gsmwc02 if I did.....

FauxClaud
FauxClaud

I would be paralyzed with worry and unable to DO or say anything. @gsmwc02 especially on 140 twitter, especially on adoption...

gsmwc02
gsmwc02

@FauxClaud Yesterday I wasn't offended. Today I am offended as a member of the IF community. We don't just "get over it".

gsmwc02
gsmwc02

@FauxClaud Embryo donation has zero to do with adoption. The author was way off based in that regard.

FauxClaud
FauxClaud

Yeah..it was an obnoxious article and I responded as such.@gsmwc02 if you can't see that correlation....::shrugs::

RobinMokma
RobinMokma

Women need to face biological REALITY! If they plan to wait to have kids beyond their own viable fertility, they should freeze their own eggs. Forty five is the age of many 1st time grandmothers. Most women have already begun menopause by that age. In fact, by age 35, a woman's chances if becoming pregnant are greatly reduced. If parents look at "embryos" as equivalent to "babies" they shouldn't produce more than they plan on using. Because yes, those are your genetic children you are giving away! How will you feel when you see a child that looks EXACTLY like your child? Or when, god forbid, your child dies and you see another child that looks exactly like yours? Think of the worst case scenario. Because it will happen.

There is a whole world of issues and problems adoptees face wanting to know our heritage, history, ancestry, medical information, meet our SIBLINGS and extended FAMILY!  But then, who listens to adoptees?  Add the issues with the adoption industry - unethical practices, greed, corruption. And those faced by adult adoptees - sealed records, blocked access to passports due to amended birth certificates, international adoptees deported b/c their adoptive parents didn't complete immigration paperwork. NO ONE seems to care about the ADULTS who grow up from these embryo's, eggs, adoptees and the problems created by this brave new science!

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

You clearly have NO clue what you are talking about.  Please educate yourself on the subject before you make ignorant comments.

adoptee
adoptee

Horrific.  I cannot imagine the implications for that child's mind later on.  It's confusing enough being adopted and going through all the questions and search and reunion.  When this little boy grows up and finds his biological family, his siblings are going to be of another generation entirely.  It's going to be a huge mind f##k for him.

lilysea
lilysea

This won't have any effect on adoption of older children from foster care. People who would do this would never, ever, ever consider adopting children from foster care. Those are children who need parents. These are adults who "need" (want) babies.

TaniaSimmons
TaniaSimmons

@lilysea We wanted nothing but to adopt from the foster system.....the system is broken!!!  The kids were returned, our hearts empty and our time running out to be parents that are not the age of G- parents.....so what do you do, take another kid from the system and hope that the next one is the one, give another 2-3-6 years with no permanent result, or find other options.......

RobinMokma
RobinMokma

@lilysea It will most certainly may have an effect. People who don't have this option have two options left. They can choose to adopt a child. Or choose not to have any children at all. As they would have done before this option was available. Interestingly, you point out one of the big problem with embryo donation. The child will still have someone else's eyes, nose, mouth, hair, personality traits, coloring, talents, mannerisms, caricaturists, etc. They will not look like, act like, take after or mirror their "host" mother or father. And in the end, there will be disappointment. We adoptees know this all to well.

WidgetGadget
WidgetGadget

@lilysea This is rather ignorant of the facts.  Many who take alternative IVF related routes to parenthood do also foster and / or adopt children.  The two paths are not mutually exclusive.

LeeleeI
LeeleeI

@lilysea Not true.  I actually went through the Fostadopt (MAPP) classes and wanted to adopt but was advised that as a single woman, I would have a hard time with foster adoption (although I am a professional with a good income), so I took on an embryo.  But I still consider fostering and adopting every day.  I might do it once my children are old enough.  I think people who love children love children and people who want to raise a kid will find all kinds of decent alternatives.

ClaudiaCorriganD'Arcy
ClaudiaCorriganD'Arcy

"But of course, it’s hard to for many couples to get past knowing that someone else would be raising their biological children (or their siblings unknowingly mating with them—a risk known as “accidental incest”)."  a bigger risk known as GENETIC SEXUAL ATTRACTION...

And guess what? THAT"S NORMAL AND AS IT SHOULD BE!!!

It is NOT normal or healthy or good to GIVE AWAY YOUR DNA. Just because we can, does not mean we should. these are people we are creating for our own selfish means. Get over it. You are infertile. You cannot always get what you want. Life sucks. DEAL!



blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

Wow that's a very ignorant way of thinking.  So if you had cancer once and survived you should not be allowed to have children? 

WidgetGadget
WidgetGadget

@ClaudiaCorriganD'Arcy    

Wow, so many ignorant comments in one post... where to start??


1) you refer to "...risk known as GENETIC SEXUAL ATTRACTION...And guess what? THAT"S NORMAL AND AS IT SHOULD BE!!!"  

No, genetic sexual attraction is not normal.  Otherwise incestuous families would be the norm, not the exception.


2) You state "It is NOT normal or healthy or good to GIVE AWAY YOUR DNA. Just because we can, does not mean we should."  

But I wonder how you reconcile that with any views you might hold on organ donation?  Donating a heart, lung or liver to someone is also donating your DNA.  But perhaps you are anti-organ donation.


3) You state "Get over it. You are infertile. You cannot always get what you want. Life sucks. DEAL!"  

I wonder what your attitude is to people who have a physical disability that can be treated via medical advances made in the last 50 years, e.g. the ability to give some sort of sight back to blind people?  

What would you say to someone who got cancer at the age of 30, and needed new drug therapies that may save or significantly prolong their life?  

What about someone who has lost limbs in an accident and needs modern prosthetics that make them able to fully engage in physical life again?  

These people all suffer from a condition or an event beyond their control.  It affects their lives, in a far greater manner than perhaps you can imagine.  Modern techniques and therapies and medicines can help them.  

Would you deny treatment and say "Get over it" to these people?  If not, why not?  Can you adequately explain what the difference is, without falling back on your own prejudices regarding conception?