Embryo Donation

image by Ed Uthman, MD

Using an embryo donation may be the best way to build your family. You can experience pregnancy and the birth of your child, be certain your unborn child receives the best prenatal care, obtain extensive genetic, medical, and social information regarding your child, and wait less time before the birth of your child than other infertility options because embryo donation short cuts the infertility treatment process by beginning with an embryo instead of an unfertilized egg and sperm.

How Babies Are Made

In IVF, the woman takes fertility drugs, produces a bunch of eggs, they get surgically removed, then fertilized with sperm. The embryos are created in a lab dish and are then implanted back into the woman's body where, ideally, they grow to full term. Since multiple-pregnancies aren't ideal for mom or babies, doctors will only put two or three embryos back into the woman's body. If she's not successful, she may try again another month with a FET or frozen embryo transfer. If she is, she may decide to try for a sibling or she may not wish to get pregnant again. This is where the embryo donation comes in. Genetic parents of embryos can donate them to research, have them discarded, or donate them to another couple.

Deciding on Embryo Donation

Using embryo donation may be the right way to build your family if:

  • Both partners are infertile
  • Couples are at a high risk of passing on genetic disorders to their offspring
  • Women have recurrent IVF failures
  • Can't afford or can't pursue adoption
  • Can't afford more expensive fertility treatments

In most cases between 50-80% of the frozen embryos typically survive the thawing process and continue dividing after embryo donation. The overall chance of pregnancy with a FET is 20% - 25% per cycle. However, success rates will fluctuate depending upon the quality of the embryo that is being used. If the embryos is created is donor egg, then you will be more likely to be successful. Another option is using an embryo donation and donated sperm to create an embryo. This embryo will not be biologically related to you. The resulting embryo is then transferred into your uterus.

Getting Started With Embryo Donation:

Embryos from embryo donation are transferred to intended parents in one of three ways:

Clinic Donation

In these arrangements, the IVF clinic acts as a liaison between donor and recipient. Recipients may be able to choose the donors based on a sketchy list of characteristics; there may or may not be contact, depending on what the parties request. There are usually more patients on a waiting list waiting for a donor embryo than there are donated embryos. Start by asking your fertility clinic if they work with embryo donation.

Many programs give patients within their own practice first choice at the donor embryo before patients that are outside the practice. "I do feel that the number of donated embryos will increase because we find that couples that establish their families through egg donation often have extra frozen embryos and are often emotionally better able to give those embryos for adoption, explains infertility expert Eldon Schriock, MD.


Some genetic parents feel more comfortable doing embryo donation through an "adoption agency which screens intended parents and finds matches. This process is the most expensive for intended parents, with program fees averaging $8,000, excluding home study fees, and fertility clinic fees. Technically, embryos cannot be adopted; in most states they are legal property, so what really happens is that property rights are transferred.

Adoption agencies tend to be very restrictive and may have guidelines which include:

  • Couples must be married for a minimum of 3 years.
  • Wife must be 45 years old or younger.
  • The combined age of applicant couple must not exceed 100 years.
  • The wife must not smoke during the application process, embryo transfer preparation and embryo donation procedure process, or during pregnancy.
  • Preference will be given to couples with no biological children.
  • At least one partner of the adopting couple must be a legal citizen of the United States.
  • Couples must complete a home study.

Personal Arrangement

Some couples make arrangements to donate their embryos personally. They may look for intended parents on online forums and discussion boards, or they may know someone in their family or community with fertility concerns. While this is possible, you will want to have a lawyer involved in the process to clearly outline parental rights, etc.

How Much is an Embryo Donation?

Embryo donation is typically less expensive than other types of reproductive treatments. The embryo donor receives no payment for the embryo; however, you must pay the clinic or agency for storing the embryo, testing the embryo, and transferring the embryo into your uterus. These procedures can run upwards of $3,000 per transfer.

So far, no federal law says anything at this time about embryo donation, yet many states are now considering how to handle such arrangements.

Dive Deeper

Related Articles

Online Resources


Embryo donation: outcome and attitudes among embryo donors and recipients

Viveca Söderström-Anttila1, Tuija Foudila, Ulla-Riitta Ripatti and Rita Siegberg

Human Reproduction, Vol. 16, No. 6, 1120-1128, June 2001


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