Miracles Can Happen From the Kindness of Others
Most people are familiar with or have at least heard of IVF and IUI, the most common forms of assisted reproductive therapy (ART.) Thousands have used donor sperm or donor eggs to conceive and start a family. Embryo donation is one of the more controversial means of third party reproduction, when a third person donates embryos to enable an infertile individual or couple to become parents.
Embryo donation can enable a woman to bear a child who might never be able to otherwise. Why do some people have embryos to donate? If you’re having fertility issues, should you consider donor embryos? What are the issues?
IVF and Embryos
In vitro fertilization is fertility treatment which fertilizes the egg with sperm in a laboratory. Usually, the woman’s ovaries are stimulated with fertility drugs so that they produce multiple eggs, which are extracted and fertilized in the lab. The fertilized eggs develop into embryos in special incubators. When the time is right, a few embryos are transferred into the woman’s uterus, usually two or three depending on her age and other factors. About 30 to 40 percent of the time, depending on the woman’s age, an embryo will implant and grow into a baby.
Extra embryos are frozen and stored for later use, in case more than one IVF cycle is needed or in case the couple decides to have IVF again for a second or third child. In some cases, however, the frozen embryos are not needed, and they can stay in frozen storage for years and still be viable for implantation.
Donor Embryos and Infertility
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), situations where embryo donation might be indicated include untreatable infertility that involves both partners, untreatable infertility in a single woman, recurrent pregnancy loss thought to be related to embryonic factors, and genetic disorders affecting one or both partners. A donated embryo would not share the genetic disorders, chromosomal problems, or embryonic issues that contribute to infertility in these cases.
A couple who want to receive a donated embryo have to undergo the same types of medical and psychological screening as a couple who want to use donor eggs, and the female partner undergoes an evaluation of her uterine cavity. If her uterus is capable of bearing a child, she is treated with estrogen and progesterone to prepare her uterus to receive the embryo.
Miracles and Dilemmas
Embryo donation raises ethical and legal questions, and the issues are not clear-cut at this point. The child born to the couple will have no genetic link to them, yet both the donors and the recipients benefit from the commitment the parents have made to gestate the child. Should the child be told that it has genetic siblings in another family?
The legal issues are potentially troublesome because there are no explicit laws governing embryo donation. If you are considering using donor embryos it’s extremely important to consult an attorney with experience in reproductive law. You may want to have a pre-donation agreement, and your lawyer may suggest seeking recognition of parenthood.
These are big issues, but a small number of embryo donations have taken place, and have resulted in families that would not have existed otherwise. The generosity of embryo donors is amazing. If you are thinking of donating or of receiving donor embryos, examine your heart, and talk to a lawyer. These are truly miracle families.