For many couples that have experienced a successful IVF cycle, there will be extra embryos leftover in storage (cryopreserved). The couples that choose not to have additional children are now left with the anxiety-provoking decision of what to do with these leftover embryos. One of the options they can consider is donation of the embryos to another patient or couple struggling with infertility.
There are some advantages to embryo donation in comparison to, for example, a couple considering the use of a donor egg:
For couples considering embryo donation, there are two donation options: known (open) and anonymous. In a known donation, the donor couple helps select who will receive their embryos. During the selection process the donor couple may think about the receiving couple’s religious and ethnic background, income level, educational credentials and whether the recipient couple has children. Donor couples may want to be informed if a pregnancy results and some may want ongoing contact with the recipient couple after the birth of a baby. An embryo “adoption” agency can help match donor and recipient couples. Some of these agencies have religious ties and will have restrictions on the type of recipients they accept.
In an anonymous donation, the IVF clinic usually selects the recipient couple. The clinic tries to match the donor and recipient in terms of ethnicity, physical characteristics and possibly religion. If a couple pursues an anonymous donation, the donor couple may never know if a pregnancy or birth occurred.
The specific expenses related to the donation should be paid for by the recipient patient/couple. These expenses may include testing and screening (e.g., blood tests for infectious diseases) as well as expenses incurred when transferring the embryos from one IVF clinic to another. The recipient patient/couple also pays for the costs related to the thawing and transfer of the embryos.
Embryo donors are expected to undergo moderate medical evaluation prior to the donation process. This will include screening questions and a physical exam. It is also recommended that the donating couple be tested for HIV I and II, hepatitis B and C, HTLV 1 and 2, and CMV. The donors may also be tested for blood type and Rh factor. Depending on their genetic or cultural heritage, donors should be tested for Tay Sachs, Canavans disease, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Most programs require a six-month quarantine period before any embryos are transferred to a recipient.
All parties involved in the arrangement will need to undergo a psychological counseling session. This includes the patient or couple that is donating the embryos and the patient or couple that is receiving the embryos. The donor patient or couple needs to understand that they will have to sign a legal contract relinquishing all rights to the embryos and any resulting offspring. The recipient patient or couple is referred to a lawyer who is well versed in reproductive law.