Infertility treatments, especially in vitro fertilization (IVF), are getting more successful all the time. Readying the body for a cycle of IVF can be challenging so most couples choose to fertilize as many eggs as possible. The more eggs fertilized, the more embryos (fertilized eggs) they’ll have for future cycles if the first one isn’t successful and the more they’ll have for future children if the first cycle is successful.

When embryos are intended for future use, they are frozen and stored until they’re needed. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), there are various ways these frozen embryos get used:

  • Egg retrieval and donation54% are wanted for future use by thefertility patients that created them
  • 21% are donated to research
  • 7% are available for adoption/donation to another infertile couple

Not every embryo that’s created or frozen is suitable for use. Some of them are destroyed due to chromosomal abnormalities and some don’t survive the freeze / thaw procedure. As many as 600,000 frozen embryos are thought to be stored in fertility clinics and other cryopreservation facilities across the United States.

The terms embryo adoption and embryo donation are often used interchangeably but some state laws attach specific definitions to them and require state-sanctioned regulations and uses. Georgia, for example, amended its adoption laws in 2009 to include an “Option of Adoption Act” that addresses embryo adoption specifically; since it defines the process as an adoption, not a donation, adoptive parents are eligible for tax deductions under the federal Adoption Tax Credit.

Legal matters, with state law variances, are similar to that of adopting a living child except:

  • The adoptive mother experiences pregnancy and childbirth herself.
  • A court order to establish parentage is usually not needed with embryo adoption although it is almost always required when adopting a live child.

Donors and prospective adoptive families are screened thoroughly for medical, mental, and financial health. Criminal history is also evaluated. The adoptive family can expect home inspections, too, before the process is completed.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires rigorous testing of all donated human tissue, including eggs, sperm, and embryos. This testing isn’t always done when the embryo is created, however. When the male and female supplying sperm and egg intend to use the extra embryos for their own future use, testing standards aren’t always performed in the timeline required by the FDA. These embryos are still available for adoption but the adoptive parents must be made aware of the embryo’s circumstances.

Reasons why a couple might choose to adopt an embryo include infertility in both partners, recurrent miscarriages associated with natural embryo health, and the possibility a child will inherit genetic disorders for one or both parents. Embryo adoption is an attractive option for single women and older women who want children.

Source: “Fact Sheet / Embryo Donation.” The American Society for Reproductive Medicine. 2012. Web. Mar 3, 2014.