Embryo donation is a form of third-party reproduction in which unused embryos remaining from one person/couple’s in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment are donated to another person or couple. IVF often creates an excess of fertilized eggs (embryos), which an individual or couple may opt to cryopreserve for future frozen embryo transfers if the initial treatment is unsuccessful or in order to expand a family. Once a family is complete, however, frozen embryos may remain.
The options for these embryos are:
- remaining cryopreserved indefinitely
- thawing to destroy
- donating the embryos to research
- donating the embryos to another individual or couple
If embryos are donated to another individual or couple, the donor couple is giving someone else the potential to experience pregnancy and the birth of a child. The donor embryo(s) will be transferred into the uterus with the hope that it will implant and become a successful pregnancy. The resulting child is the recipient of the embryo—however the offspring’s genetic traits are those of the embryo donors.
The donors in embryo donation get no compensation, except for certain expenses, such as required medical screening tests.
Patients are typically screened for health problems prior to the retrieval of eggs and sperm to create embryos before undergoing the initial IVF treatment. To become embryo donors, the donors may have to be re-screened at the time of embryo donation to minimize the likelihood of transmitting infectious diseases. Donor embryo recipients also must undergo medical screening and testing.
Donor Embryo Recipients
When an individual or couple chooses to use a donor embryo, it may be called “embryo adoption,” which is a misnomer: based on current law, true adoption only refers to the placement of a child with a family after he or she is born. Since the resulting offspring are born into a family, no adoption takes place.
Choosing embryo donation is similar to choosing egg donation or sperm donation to build a family. Patients who may be considering adoption may also be interested in transfer of donor embryos as an alternative to the adoption process, which can sometimes be a long, expensive and uncertain.
How Successful Is Embryo Donation?
Embryo donation is a developing field. Success rates, as measured by live births per embryo transfer, depend on the embryo’s quality, the egg donor’s age, the number of embryos transferred, and the embryo’s developmental stage when frozen. According to data from the CDC, the live birth rate with embryo donation is 43-45% percent.
Choosing embryo donation can also be cost-effective. According to RESOLVE, a national infertility association, the average cost of embryo donation ranges from $2,500 to $4,000, while the average cost of an IVF cycle is $12,400.
Dr. Eric Flisser is Board Certified in Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility and in Obstetrics & Gynecology. He is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (SREI). He is also a member of the New York-Metropolitan Embryologist Society. His professional interests include reproductive surgery, in vitro fertilization and oocyte donation. Dr. Flisser is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine of the Mount Sinai Medical Center and also has admitting privileges at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York.