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Considering Embryo Donation

April 1, 2013

Couples who have suffered several failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles and are looking into third party reproduction may consider embryo donation, sometimes called embryo adoption, as an alternative to egg donation or sperm donation.

Cryopreserved embryos are donated by a couple who did not use them in their own IVF cycle, usually because they have decided their family is complete. The donors are not compensated for their embryos.

Embryo donation can be pursued with the help of your fertility clinic or an embryo donation agency. A home study may be required for the intended parents, similar to the adoption of a child. In that case, intended parents should work with an attorney who specializes in third party reproductive law to ensure their rights are protected. Egg donation through a fertility clinic is less legally complicated because the donors have already signed informed consent and release of any legal rights to the embryos.

Aside from the legal component of embryo donation, there are several factors to consider including the medical history of the donors and predicted success rates using donor embryos. Edward Marut, M.D., of Fertility Centers of Illinois says that although embryo donation is a more affordable option than egg donation, there may be more safeguards in place to screen egg or sperm donors for disease, infertility, and other health risks. “[Embryo donation] does not provide the careful screening of the individuals who produced the embryos, who in fact were infertile themselves, and therefore have inherent risks. It is important to understand that there may be health concerns as the couple who donated the embryo suffered infertility and may have other genetic diagnoses,” he states. Working with an embryo donation agency is beneficial for receiving any available medical history from the embryo donors. A fertility doctor will provide comparative success rates to help you to understand if donor embryos will yield higher pregnancy success rates than attempting to conceive with your own eggs or donor eggs. Embryo donation may have lower success rates than egg or sperm donation depending on the quality of the embryo and factors like lab quality and freezing or thawing techniques. James Lin, M.D., of Reproductive Fertility Center in Irvine, California, assures patients that embryos must meet specific criteria prior to being frozen, thus couples can expect for cryopreserved donor embryos to be of good quality. “Typically cryopreserved embryos should have met a certain quality to be frozen. The donated embryos should provide the recipients a fair chance of becoming pregnant,” he states.

The greatest benefits to embryo donation include cost effectiveness and potentially increased success rates versus using own egg or own sperm. Dr. Lin believes that embryo donation provides the intended mother with the chance to carry a pregnancy while simultaneously helping another couple to address any moral concerns they may have with discarding their unused embryos.

“Patients need to be mentally prepared that embryo adoption is more similar to an adoption in that you get what you get and you need to be very open-minded,” Lin states. If having a child that physically resembles the intended parents or has a biological connection to at least one of the parents is important criteria, Dr. Lin advises his patients that pursuing embryo donation may not be the best option for them.

Dr. Marut advises fertility patients to weigh all options before deciding which form of third party reproduction is best: donor egg, donor sperm, or donor embryo. Donor sperm is the least expensive of third party reproductive options and in his experience, few couples opt for embryo donation over sperm donation. Embryo donation is less expensive than egg donation; however, it can be a more complicated legal process depending on whether embryos are obtained from a fertility clinic donor embryo program or an embryo donation agency.

Fertility patients may find resources on embryo donation by consulting their fertility doctor. Many fertility clinics can match donor embryo recipients with another couple who has decided to donate their unused embryos. Support groups, online forums like, and the Patient Care Coordinators at can also provide resources for embryo donation.


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