Have you ever wondered what happens to frozen embryos that go unused after a woman undergoes in vitro fertilization (IVF) and achieves a successful pregnancy? People with leftover embryos have various options: keeping the embryos frozen, destroying them, allowing them to be used for scientific research, and donating them. Embryo donation is on the rise as a means of conceiving a child to parents who are unable to naturally do so. This process enables a woman to donate her unused embryos to a clinic so another woman can have a child. Embryo donations usually occur anonymously, and require no contact between the donor and the recipient. However, a few clinics exist that encourage communication between the donor and recipient families, giving donors a say in choosing their embryo recipients.
The topic of embryo donation has been surrounded by controversy in recent years, specifically when the Bush Administration funded Nightlife Christian Adoptions’ Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program. The term “embryo adoption” was scrutinized by the assisted reproductive technology community. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)’s Ethics Committee released a report stating that “adoption” refers to “a specific legal procedure that establishes or transfers parentage of existing children.” ASRM’s report concluded that the use of the term adoption in conjunction with embryos was “inaccurate, misleading, and could place burdens upon infertile recipients and should be avoided,” because it equates embryos to the status of children. Therefore, “embryo donation” is the preferred term among the assisted reproductive technology community.
Similar to adoption, embryo donation recipients must undergo a screening process involving an application and a home study. However, unlike adoption, the donation does not need to be finalized in court. Under Indiana law, the woman who gives birth is considered the legal mother and the man she is married to is the legal father. Indiana law is favorable towards embryo donation, and will likely continue to evolve as this practice becomes more common. Although embryo donation does not require court approval, it is important for persons undergoing IVF to include the disposition of any unused embryos in their will. This ensures that those who want to donate their frozen embryos will have their wishes fulfilled in the event of their deaths, and will avoid situations such as this one “What happens to your frozen embryos?”