In the past, couples who opted for IVF but were unable to conceive a child were faced with the decision to adopt a child, keep trying naturally and hope for the best or to completely give up their dreams of having a child. Thanks to advances in modern science, though, couples that do not have luck with IVF using their own sperm and egg now have choices when it comes to alternative routes to pregnancy. Donor eggs and sperm have opened the door to pregnancy and children for numerous couples. Yet, for some couples, the best option is using donor embryos.
What is Embryo Donation?
For couples that would otherwise be unable to conceive, embryo donation can allow a couple to experience the joys and excitement of pregnancy. It involves using embryos donated by another couple to conceive a pregnancy through frozen embryo transfer. Although a child conceived from a donated embryo will not be biologically related to you, using embryo donation will allow you to experience pregnancy and giving birth, something which is important to many couples.
Donated embryos are typically extras from another couple’s own attempts with IVF. During IVF, 12 or more embryos may be created yet many couples never use all of their embryos. Because the donating couple has decided that they are done expanding their family, rather than destroy their remaining embryos, they make them available to other couples in need.
In some cases, a couple may choose to create their own embryo by using donor sperm and donor eggs. To create the embryo, the donor eggs and sperm are combined in a laboratory.
When both couples are faced with infertility problems, embryo donation can be an excellent choice. Issues that typically cause a couple to consider embryo donation include:
- Poor sperm production and count
- Problems with egg development and ovulation
- Adoption to expensive to pursue
- Attempts at other types of ART have been unsuccessful
- High risk of passing on genetic disorders but are unable to pursue PGD
- Other fertility treatments are not financially feasible
Pros and Cons of Embryo Donation
While one of the main advantages of embryo donation for many couples is having the opportunity to experience pregnancy, other benefits of using donated embryos include:
- Easier and more affordable than adoption
- Less expensive than other ART treatments
- May allow you to get pregnant and give birth within a year
Despite these obvious advantages, there are some drawbacks to embryo donation that couples should seriously consider before opting for this treatment. One of the most significant drawbacks is the fact that the embryo donation success rates are lower than those associated with egg donation. Because embryos are frozen and then thawed before being used, their quality may be compromised or they may not survive the thawing procedure. Additionally, because donated embryos usually come from couples experiencing infertility issues themselves, the initial quality of the embryos may not be that great.
Using embryos made from donated eggs and sperm may help circumnavigate some of these issues as the women and men who donate their eggs and sperm are healthy and fertile. However, the embryos still need to be frozen and quarantined for at least six months to ensure that they are disease free. Therefore, the freezing and thawing procedures may lessen the embryos quality.
Success with Embryo Donation
As with many infertility treatments, just how successful embryo donation is will be dependant upon the skill of your fertility specialist as well as the quality of the embryo. In general, embryo donation is associated with a 16% to 20% success rate per transfer.
How Safe is Embryo Donation?
Using donated embryos is considered to be a safe procedure since all embryos undergo vigorous screening procedures before they can be used in treatment. After undergoing the mandatory six-month quarantine, during which time the embryos remain frozen, they are tested for various infectious diseases, including HIV. If desired, it is also possible to do genetic testing on the embryos to reduce the chances of genetic diseases or chromosomal defects.
Finding a Donor
Many fertility clinics have their own embryo donation program in place that will help you locate a suitable donor. If your fertility clinic does not offer this type of program, then they will likely be able to refer you to an agency that can connect you with a couple. While the process is normally an anonymous one, occasionally, some couples prefer to do an open donation.
Once you have decided upon embryo donation, a counselor will meet with you to make sure you have examined all the issues associated with this treatment and help you find a suitable donor match. Some of the criteria you may consider when looking for a donor includes:
- Religious or spiritual beliefs
- Genetic traits
You may be asked to select a few donors so that at least six embryos will be available for transfer.
It is important to check the reproductive laws governing embryo donation in your state so you fully understand who has rights to the embryo and who doesn’t. Ideally, donors should not have any rights to an embryo, or any resulting children, once they donate an embryo. Often, embryo donors need to sign a waiver saying they surrender their parental rights before a transfer can occur. Once the embryo has implanted into your womb, you and your partner legally become the parents of the child.
Transferring the Embryos
To prepare your body for the transfer, you will be prescribed fertility drugs. These will help your endometrial lining to thicken in preparation for the implantation of the embryos. When your uterus is ready and your hormones are properly balanced, your fertility specialist will use the frozen embryo transfer procedure to place the embryos in your uterus. You will return to your fertility specialist within two weeks to test for pregnancy.
Compared to other ART procedures, embryo donation is not that expensive. Although embryo donors do not receive payment for their embryos, it is your responsibility to pay for the storing, testing and transferring of the embryos. Each embryo donation transfer can cost $3,000 or more. Generally, a maximum of two embryos are transferred during each cycle.