Much to talk about

This morning, I had a discussion with a colleague who asked me about embryo donation. She asked why we are not hearing more about this alternative family building option and asked, too, what we can do to better educate would be donors and prospective recipients.

Embryo donation, either anonymous or known is a collaborative family building option that involves the donation of excess or residual embryos (that is, embryos that are not intended for use by the patient(s) for whom they were originally created) that are being made available to other hopeful parents.

When successful infertility patients find themselves with residual embryos (quick disclaimer: I prefer to use the term “residual” to “excess” but this is a personal preference, most folks will use the reference “excess” embryos) the fertility patient typically has four options for disposition of the embryos:

1. they can be reserved for future family building;
2. they can be allowed to thaw and cease;
3. they can be donated for scientific research; and
4. they can be donated to a third-party for pro-creation.

I think it is most fair and appropriate to note that embryonic stem-cell and other scientific research is a terrific option for those who are interested and can access this option for embryo disposition. If a previous fertility patient has completed his/her family building, if destruction of excess embryos is not a comfortable consideration, for many, donation to research is a best option. The fertility clinic or the cryo center where the residual embryos are stored should be able to provide resources for donation for research.

For some, however, donation to another prospective parent is the disposition option of choice. Particularly for those with residual embryos created with donor egg or donor sperm, donation for further family building is more and more becoming the preferred way to resolve cryopreserved residual embryos.

For those considering donating to another hopeful parent, my recommendation is to be certain that an attorney is consulted. There are certain programs that will “bank” available embryos and then, typically through a database, make the embryos available to those visiting their website. I actually have reservations about these practices. I would prefer and do recommend that prospective donors be in touch with a reproductive lawyer to discuss relinquishment of parental (and other) rights and other matters that are both legal and practical considerations.

My law colleagues and I have seen the joy that comes from embryo donation, we have worked with donors and with recipients for whom this is a most gratifying process, explore your options, make an informed decision and find peace in making a final decision about your residual cryopreserved embryos.

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