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.

42 comments
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

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.

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!

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.

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!



Lorene
Lorene

I was adopted and  found the experience confusing enough.  I can't imagine the bewilderment I would have felt if I found out I was an adopted embyro. 

snjul513
snjul513

I really wish these people would get over themselves. So tired of the "but I really want a baby" crew..,maybe we should start finding homes for kids in group homes, you know the term we use now instead of orphanage. Adoption sucks, no matter if you give birth to the kid or not you do not share it's linage. So many adults are searching for their donors now why are we making it worse? Just more entitled rich people I suppose...l now the attacking of me will begin...

MomKat59
MomKat59

Whether or not there are born children who would like to be adopted, there are also 600,000 embryos in frozen storage in the U.S. that were created to eventually be born - not to be destroyed. Why not give them a chance at life?  Adoption is the process of bringing children into your family who are not genetically related to you.  When a woman gives birth to an embryo gifted to her by someone else, she gives birth to a BABY not a chair.  Therefore applying the best practices of adoption makes logical sense.  The ability of medical science to unite human eggs and sperm in a petri dish does not eliminate the social and emotional consequences of doing so - medical professionals would simply rather focus on the medical procedure.  But this attitude ignores the needs of the child and only focuses on fulfilling the needs of the person desperately trying to achieve pregnancy. Embryo adoption may be a better solution rather than the creation of more excess embryos.

momma2011
momma2011

My husband and I are joyful parents of twin toddlers, brought to us through the gift of embryo donation.  We are confident that our children were meant to be born into this world.  We understand initial reactions from individuals who have not gone through the extensive thought and prayer process we did before knowing without a doubt that this was the plan and purpose for our lives.  In response to the notion that there are already so many children in need of families... if this logic should prevent bringing embryos fully into the world, then why should newly married couples (or any couple, for that matter) try to conceive on their own, for doesn't that create a "lost opportunity" for a child in waiting?  Of course not.  GiFT, you are so correct, there is a dire societal problem involving unplanned pregnancies and abandoned children,However, a proper solution should involve addressing those root causes, not discouraging other viable and life-affirming options for donor and adoptive families alike.

jamesf161
jamesf161

we have enough children who need homes, and shouldn't make more. The left over embryos should be used for research and anyone wanting children should have to go through the process themselves or adopt. This way, existing children are taken care of and more research can be performed, leading to highly beneficial treatments.

GiFT
GiFT

I somehow feel that something is fundamentally wrong here. Not the incredible advances of medical science - but the cost of them. Ethically I am dubious, but morally I cannot grasp this idea of creating a child when there are so many children who already exist who are in desperate need of a family. Medical science needs to take up the cause of the abandoned, neglected and abused child whose lives are dire and their future uncertain.

TallusRip
TallusRip

Trippy.  A baby born from that same batch, 19 years apart...is the kid going to say he/she is 19, too?  Or does it only count as aging when the baby is born?  Brings up even more questions.  If a fertilized egg is allowed to become an embryo and then stuck into storage, it's still counted as human in some aspects but nonhuman in others.  "You have existed for 2 decades but we're only counting the ones where you were breathing."

clark_monroe
clark_monroe

@slone In IVF procedures they fertilize enough eggs so if the first one doesn't take they are covered from doing an expensive one again !

tpaege1
tpaege1

@slone give them a new home was my thot. never research(m.o.) keep up the good work Slone

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

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

FauxClaud
FauxClaud

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

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.....

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

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

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.

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

@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?


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? 

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

It would be less confusing to know your mom carried you for 9 months in her stomach and gave birth to you? 

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

The adoption process is not as easy as you think- try it sometime and let us know how it worked for you.  Whether its domestic or international it is very expensive and can take up to 2 years.  Not everyone looking to have a family has an extra $50,000 on hand. 

gsmwc02
gsmwc02

May I ask how many of these children who need homes you have adopted?

blahblahblog3
blahblahblog3

Perfect response.  I don't think people outside of the infertility world understand what is involved.  Just adopt!  Really?  Apparently they don't know how hard adoption really is.

WidgetGadget
WidgetGadget

@TallusRipThis is a silly suggestion.  Just as the real age of a premature or overdue baby is calculated from its actual DOB, not its conception date, the same is (and should be) true for children born via embryo donation. 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@TallusRip The term "born" and "Birthday" relate to the event in which a viable human being is brought into the world from the womb.  When he was conceived will only matter if he follows the Chinese Zodiac which is based on conception and not birth.

So your question, it appears, is moot.

gsmwc02
gsmwc02

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

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".

TaniaSimmons
TaniaSimmons

@blahblahblog3 its about as silly as saying to someone who can't get pregnant just try hard to have a baby..........

FauxClaud
FauxClaud

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