When couples are struggling to become pregnant, IVF treatments may produce several embryos. These embryos are frozen once created, becoming a viable option for embryo adoption in the future. An embryo adoption involves receiving an embryo from someone else that can then become a child brought to term naturally.
The primary benefit of embryo adoption is that it offers an alternative for couples who are trying to build a family, but have experienced physical challenges. Couples can have children even if they experience infertility, have high risks of passing on genetic disorders to their offspring, or have dealt with multiple IVF failures in the past.
The primary disadvantage of embryo adoption is that it is still technically an adoption. That child is born to you, but genetically that child is not your own. That can introduce some unpredictability into the genetic makeup of the family, even if the frozen embryo has been approved for implantation. There may be certain medical challenges that must be faced that would not normally be faced otherwise.
Here are some additional embryo adoption pros and cons to think about and discuss.
List of the Pros of Embryo Adoption
1. Most agencies have embryos that are readily available.
Frozen embryos are often created through the IVF process, often as a backup for couples that are struggling to conceive. Many families donate their embryos once a child is conceived since their goal has fulfilled. More than 400,000 frozen embryos in the United States are potentially viable for adoption right now. That means there is an option that is readily available for most couples right now if they wish to have a child.
2. Embryos are matched to families.
Embryo adoption isn’t a randomized process where a lucky frozen embryo is selected from a storage container. It is a delicate process where the embryo is matched to a family, based on specific guidelines and qualifications that can be met. Every situation is unique, which means that adoption agencies must meet those unique needs for all parties involved before the adoption will be allowed to proceed.
3. Counseling support is often provided.
Many embryo adoption providers do more than match families to waiting embryos. They also provide counseling support for the entire family throughout the entire process – and often beyond it. Counselors can answer any questions you may have because they are often assigned to you. That means couples can also defer certain questions to the counselor that existing children in the home may have.
4. It allows a mother to enjoy the experience of pregnancy and childbirth.
One of the biggest disappointments of the adoption process is that the adventure of pregnancy and childbirth is not experienced. Embryo adoptions can alleviate this type of grief. The frozen embryo is transferred and begins to grow in the womb of the adoptive mother. That creates a true family experience from the very beginning, just like a natural family would get to experience. It also offers a chance for immediate bonding, something that many adoptive couples would love to have.
5. Adopting an embryo is often cheaper than other forms of adoption.
To adopt an infant in the United States domestically, the average cost can be upwards of $30,000. If an international adoption is desired, the cost can easily exceed $50,000. Some adoptions can even exceed $100,000 if there are legal issues involved with the process. With an embryo adoption, the cost is often $15,000 or less, which includes home studies, agency fees, and transfer treatment costs.
6. Frozen embryos can last almost indefinitely while maintaining viability.
Emma Gibson was born on October 14, 1992. What was notable about this event was that Emma had been a frozen embryo for 24 years. The embryo was implanted into a woman who was 26 years old and the pregnancy was successfully brought to term. Although this is likely the record between embryo creation and birth at the moment, there is no known limit to the length of viability for an embryo that is frozen.
7. It provides an embryo with a chance at life.
We all have different definitions of what we classify as “life.” What an embryo adoption provides is the chance to experience a life of their own. There are no guarantees, just like any other pregnancy, but there is a chance for couples who want to have a child to make a difference in that life. It is an opportunity for another family’s remaining embryos to still be born one day.
8. The costs of maintaining a frozen embryo are minimal.
The cost of cryopreservation for embryos is estimated to be $700 or less per year. Despite these low costs, just 2% of embryos that are considered to be “extra” are actually preserved. Improving awareness of this adoption option for couples or families who are looking to grow may offer new opportunities for embryos that may normally be designated for research only.
List of the Cons of Embryo Adoption
1. There can be long waiting lists.
Most embryo adoptions occur through waiting lists that are developed by fertility clinics. There are some adoption agencies that will match families with embryos, but the demand is often greater than current available resources. Even though there are hundreds of thousands of embryos available, some couples may experience wait times of 12-36 months before being approved for an adoption.
2. Not every embryo adoption is open.
Although the goal of an embryo adoption is to create an open adoption, not every couple wants their identity to be known. With an open adoption, a couple will know who their child’s genetic parents happen to be and if there are any genetic siblings. That provides a child with the chance to know their “second family” if they wish. Closed adoptions prevent this from happening.
3. It can create a genetic risk for future children.
Imagine this scenario. A couple goes through IVF treatment, produces several embryos, most of which are frozen and made available for adoption. They have a baby girl thanks to the efforts of the fertility clinic. Now another couple adopts an embryo and they have a baby boy. Their children are genetic siblings. Although the risk is remote, the two could meet, fall in love, and never know they are brother and sister because of the structure of the adoption. Romantic involvement can be a major issue with some embryo adoptions.
4. There are no guarantees that an embryo transfer will be successful.
The rates of success for a frozen embryo transfer are about equal to the rates of success for a traditional IVF treatment. According to Shady Grove Fertility, a woman who is 35 years old or younger at the time of the transfer have over a 60% chance of becoming pregnant with a single transfer. That rate of success goes down as maternal age increases. The length of time the embryo is frozen affects the success rate as well.
5. There are no legal guarantees offered.
In the United States, there are no specific state or federal laws that govern the adoption of an embryo. Some states have generalized adoption laws that can be extended to embryos, but that is the extent of the legal protections that couples have. An embryo adoption is technically a contract that relinquishes the parental rights of the donating couple, allowing the adopting couple to receive those parenting rights. Because the legal status of an embryo could be considered “property,” those contracts may be ruled invalid by some courts.
6. The future health of cryopreserved embryos is unknown.
According to research by Dr. Peter Clark, Professor of Theology and Health Administration at Saint Joseph’s University, IVF embryos are already twice as likely to be born underweight and with major birth defects. The effects of freezing on these vulnerable embryos is not known.
7. It may create its own “black market” for adoptions.
The costs of an IVF treatment are similar to the costs of an embryo adoption. Some couples may seek to have their own embryos donated to others as a way to recoup those costs. There are laws in the United States that prevent the sale of embryos or human reproductive items, but some families may exchange money for embryo access without the assistance of an adoption agency. Some adoption agencies even encourage adoptive families to “pay” donating families for certain expenses that they have incurred over time to produce the embryos in the first place.
These embryo adoption pros and cons offer couples an exciting opportunity to have a child of their own when normally they may not have had that opportunity. It is a chance to grow a family at a fraction of the cost of other adoption methods. The caveat to that is that a single embryo transfer may not be successful. Three unsuccessful attempts would be the same cost as a traditional adoption and a couple would still not have a child to call their own, despite the expenditure.