In the current clinical practice of In Vitro Fertilization, also known as Assisted Reproductive Technology, more embryos than can be transferred safely at one time commonly are generated. Many biological parents store their frozen embryos for the future use. Couples who reach pregnancy and have completed their families, or have other reasons for choosing not to use their embryos, must decide what to do with them. Among several options, the most popular one is to donate to another infertile couple. A couple may also discard these embryos or donate them for research in order to help improve the pregnancy rates for infertile couples in the future. In both of these last two situations, the embryos won’t be transferred to the woman’s uterus and no child will be born as a result.
The use of donated embryos can provide patients a way to conceive that may be less complex and less expensive than gamete (reproductive cell) donation. It also can provide the donating patients with a sense of fulfillment as their donation helps other patients build a family. It benefits both the genetic and the recipient family.
A couple may use two types of embryos:
- Embryos, which were originally created for a genetic mother’s assisted pregnancy.
- Embryos, which are specifically created for donation using donor eggs and donor sperm.
If the donor and recipient families do not know each other, this is called “anonymous embryo donation”. If a donor family knows a woman to whom embryos are donated, it is called “directed embryo donation”. In this case, the physician may suggest that both the donor and recipient couples speak with a counselor an attorney to discuss all points of the procedure.
One more option exists. So called “Semi-open” arrangement, when both parties know all needed information about each other, but their real names and locating information are held, in order to provide a layer of privacy protection. The embryo donors must sign a document indicating their permission to use their embryos for donation.
Many young women want to help others overcome infertility. They serve as egg donors and then going through a rigorous screening process to ensure they are appropriate candidates. They usually provide a detailed health history of themselves and genetic history of their ancestors. Medical and psychological evaluations are also performed.
Even after finding donors, physicians need time to begin an IVF procedure. Embryos should be isolated for a minimum of six months before the potential donors are screened and tested or retested in the case of negative results.
The decision to proceed with embryo donation is complex, and patients may benefit from psychological counseling to aid in the decision. Psychological consultation with a qualified mental health professional is strongly recommended for all couples considering donating embryos. The assessment should include a clinical interview and psychological testing. The potential impact of the relationship between the donor and recipient should be explored. The genetic parents and adoptive parents may negotiate their own terms for future contact between families. Individuals participating in donor programs should be assured that their confidentiality will be protected.