Families who have undergone in vitro fertilization to create their family, may have embryos remaining in frozen storage and may not realize that they have four options for disposing of their embryos. Their embryos may have remained in storage because they did not realize or understand the options that they have. These are the four options for families to consider….……..
The first option is to allow them to remain in frozen storage. Families with stored embryos often commented that they “forget” about their embryos until they receive the annual storage bill. In the US these storage fees can range from $250 – $1200 annually with the average being around $400 – $600 annually. While embryos can remain frozen and maintain their viability indefinitely, allowing them to continue in storage is “not making a decision at all.”
A second option is to thaw the embryos and allow them to die. For some, this is hard for them to embrace and for many it is not an option at all. For couples who struggled to have children, and were able to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization, these embryos represent success in the creation of their family. Additionally, these embryos represent precious potential life and the family does not wish to intentionally allow them to perish.
Another choice to consider is donating their embryos to research. While this may appear to be a very worthy consideration for their embryos, the family should know that there have been no cures or treatments discovered through embryonic stem cell research however, there have many cures and treatments through adult stem cell research.
The fourth option for families with embryos in frozen storage is to donate them to another family. This is a growing option for many couples who desire to help another family by donating their remaining embryos. As I spoke with donors about the disposition options, I was surprised when many voiced, “I wished someone had offered us embryos, we might not have created our own.” Additionally, these families who make the decision to donate their embryos to another family speak about their deep desire to make a difference for another family and to give their embryos an opportunity for life.
As the years go by and families do not make a decision for their embryos, there is a chance that their embryos could become abandoned. A family may move and lose contact with the clinic where the embryos are stored; consequently the embryos remain in limbo. The clinic cannot make any disposition decisions for the embryos, but must continue to store them indefinitely. Many clinics are now including an abandonment clause in their IVF contract stating that if the annual storage fees have not been paid for a certain number of years and the clinic has made numerous efforts to contact the family during that time but with no success, that they legally have the family’s permission to thaw and destroy the embryos. While many clinics have this consent in place, very few have actually acted upon it and if the clinic chooses not to destroy them, no one except the biological parents can make the decision to donate these remaining embryos. At this point the embryos are considered “abandoned.”
While the decision for their remaining embryos can be a difficult, each family should explore their options and must come to an agreement on what is right for them.
When families realize that they are having trouble conceiving and carrying a child to term, they begin to consider their options for have a child. Most enlist the services of a reproductive endocrinologist to assess what the problem is and learn what options are available to them.
One option that is often considered and used is in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization is a procedure where the joining of egg and sperm takes place outside of the woman’s body. Typically the woman may be given fertility drugs before this procedure so that multiple eggs mature in the ovaries simultaneously. The eggs are retrieved from the ovaries and then mixed with the sperm in a laboratory dish or test tube. The eggs are monitored for several days. Once there is evidence that fertilization has occurred and the cells begin to divide, the fertilized eggs are then returned to the woman’s uterus or frozen to be used at a later date.
Once they have completed their family with the created embryos, they are faced with the decision of what to do with the remaining embryos. Some families report that they do not think about these embryos that remain in cryo storage until they receive the annual storage bill from the clinic that is care-taking their embryos.
Very often families who have embryos in storage desire to donate their embryos to another family. Many donors have reported to me that they “wished someone had offered our family embryos as we probably would not have created our own.” Repeatedly I have witnessed families who have embryos to donate express a deep understanding of the feelings and emotions of the families who would like to receive donated embryos.
While knowing that they are making a good decision for their embryos, a family who is making this decision may find that they have mixed emotions about this process. Releasing their embryos marks the end of their family building. Also, by donating their embryos they are separating themselves from their embryos and this usually involves a grieving process. For some families this may be a brief process, but for others it may be more lengthy and involved. There are times when one spouse is more ready to release the embryo than the other. Some individuals may find comfort in talking with a counselor, not only to explore their options, but to support them as they grieve and express their sadness. It is important to remember that grief and sadness is normal and it is helpful to acknowledge and process these very important feelings. Each person will move through these emotions in their own way and there is no “right or wrong” way to grieve.
As families explore their feelings, they will want to examine all the options that they have for their embryos remaining in frozen storage. Speaking with a counselor who is familiar with all the options and the process involved with each option empowers the family to make the best decision for their family. We would hope that individuals who have embryos remaining in storage, would seek to resolve their ambivalence about releasing their embryos, take steps to become united and determined to donate their embryos to another family.
Families who consider navigating the embryo adoption waters have a number of options to help them get started. Organizations such as medical clinics, adoption agencies and social service agencies that serve families through the embryo donation/adoption process offer a varying range of services. Some agencies might provide only one service, such as completing the family assessment (home study) for the recipient, while others provide more comprehensive services, like donor-recipient matching, medical transfer and counseling.
A medical clinic may only receive the embryos to their clinic to thaw and do the physical transfer of the embryo while other facilities provide more comprehensive services. Some not only receive embryos, but also provide “housing” for them until the family makes a decision on where or to whom to donate them. Additionally, this type of clinic may receive applications from families desiring to receive the embryos, and coordinate the connection of the embryo donors with a recipient family. These medically based clinics also prepare the recipient mother’s body for and complete the physical transfer of the embryos.
Some organizations serving embryo donor and recipient families, ask the recipient families to review donor families profiles to determine from whom they would like to receive embryos. If it is an open relationship where there is a level of contact, the donor family is then offered the option of approving or denying the donation. Additionally, in some cases of a confidential (anonymous) relationship, the donor may still want the opportunity to be involved in the choice of the recipient family.
Other organizations reverse the process and have the donor family initially review the recipient families’ profiles and select which family they would like to adopt their embryos. Following this, the chosen recipient family reviews the donor family’s information and either agrees or declines the donation decision. This process mirrors the typical traditional domestic adoption placement where the birth family has the option to select a family with whom to place their child.
Another factor that may influence a family’s choice for an embryo donation/adoption organization may be the agency’s location and its accessibility to the family. If it is located near the family’s home that may be an easier choice than one that would involve travel. Families may have a particular organization that they prefer to work with because of its specific processes and procedures. Another factor that families may consider as they select an embryo service provider is the organization’s success rates for embryo donation/adoption, but whatever their choice, they should choose the one that best fits their family’s needs.
As an adoption professional, I consider the cherished life of an embryo to be a miracle waiting to burst forth to life through embryo donation and adoption.
However, legally embryo donation and adoption falls under the jurisdiction of “contract law.” When an embryo is donated to another family that transfer falls under the status of “transfer of property.” The donating family signs a document releasing their embryos and the receiving family also signs a document indicating their receipt of the embryos. Through these documents this “transfer of property” is completed.
For the families donating their precious embryos to another family, their embryos certainly do not represent “property.” These donor families give the gift of their embryos with much thought and often grief as they release their embryos so that another family may have the blessing of giving birth to their adopted child.
With all adoptions, there is a giving up and a receiving. Because embryos are in a frozen state when the legal transfer occurs, it may feel as if it is a “commodity.” However, to the donor who releases their embryos this gift represents the fact that their family has been completed and they are generously sharing these potential lives with another family. Likewise, for the family who receives the embryos, this gift represents an opportunity for giving birth to their adopted child.
It is important to recognize that while the transfer of embryos from one family to another is a sharing of life, it is a transition that must be documented legally.
Whether it be traditional domestic adoption, international adoption or embryo adoption, it is very hard to wait as you move through the process.
Once you have made the decision to proceed with adoption, your life becomes focused on selecting an organization, exploring the expectations that the agency has for their adoptive families and plodding through all the paperwork that is required. While these requirements keep you busy, you may continue to be anxious as the goal of having a child still looms in your future.
It is important to remember that it is a process that takes time over which you have little control. It may be helpful to look back to remember what you have learned as you moved through the process and note how far that you, as a couple, have come. By this time, you have learned so much more than you knew when you were just new to adoption.
Family and friends may inquire about the steps taken and things that need to be addressed. Hopefully, you can share your progress positively so that others can be an encouragement to you.
Many couples that I have worked with have found that being part of a group with other families who are currently experiencing the adoption process is very helpful. As you build a community of other families involved in adoption (and it really doesn’t matter if it is domestic, international or embryo adoption) you may begin to feel “a new normal” as you encounter others who are also experiencing the same emotions and anxieties that you feel.
Taking time to be thankful for the helpful and supportive people who have been placed in your path on this journey may also give you peace. Knowing that others are encouraging you and excited for you to complete the adoption process will certainly bring joy to your heart.
The hardest part may be when you have completed all the paperwork, attended all the classes, completed all the medical steps and now you are just waiting.
We hope that you have encouraging and supportive family and friends around you to support you and encourage you as you have moments of anxiety. It is hard, but hopefully there will be a day very soon when you can share with joy the news that you are indeed pregnant and carrying your long-awaited adopted child.
The above quote is one that I have heard from countless families as they were preparing to donate their embryos. As these donor families are in the process of donating their embryos, they reflect that receiving embryos was never presented to them as an option when they considered pursuing in vitro fertilization for their family building plan.
This thought is not spoken with regret, but rather as an observation how the embryo donor process has evolved. Families today that desire to give birth to their adopted child have the wonderful option of receiving embryos that compassionate donors are offering. It is a great option to give life to embryos that remain in frozen storage and are willingly donated by the family that created them.
While the process of embryo donation and adoption occurs in the sanctuary of a medical facility, the decision to donate emanates from the heart of couples who have remaining embryos in storage. The two families involved may never meet or they may choose to have an open relationship. Many donor families report that, even though they do not know nor have an open relationship with the recipients, that they think of the family that received their donated embryos many times.
On several occasions, I have called donors to share with them that the recipient family did not become pregnant with their donated embryos. I was humbled by the way that these generous families grieved for the family for whom embryo donation and adoption was not successful. The donor family had experienced disappointment as they traveled through infertility and they well knew the grief and loss that the recipient family was experiencing.
Embryo donation is a wonderful way to build a family. Through the generosity of one family, a new family is joyously created.
What a wonderful blessing another family has given your family. They have donated to you the embryos that they lovingly created. They pass them on to you to fulfill your hopes and dreams of a family. Your donor family has been blessed and they are willing to share this blessing with you.
Can you receive the gift with thanksgiving and claim the responsibility to nurture this gift to its fullest?
Sometimes when we are given a precious gift, we do not feel that we deserve the gift. However, the gift of embryos is a most precious gift as it is the gift of “life with potential.” As with any newborn baby, one does not know who this child was created to be. But every family celebrates the birth of this new life and watches and nurtures this precious new life.
Your child will be totally unique because they carry the genes of the donor family, but will be imprinted with the special gifts of your family. This child will mimic the tone of your voice, respond to your mannerisms, be impacted by your family experiences and likewise develop into the unique person he or she is intended to be.
What a wonderful gift you have been given, what a joy and a blessing to watch this child grow and develop into a precious new member of your family.