Embryo adoption, or embryo transfer, is a form of IVF (In vitro fertilization). IVFs are a type of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and were created to overcome infertility. Many parents choose adoption as an alternative after many unsuccessful attempts at fertility. According to the Center for Genetics and Society, IVF is an ART procedure in which sperm and eggs are joined outside the body, and the resulting embryo is transferred to a uterus in an effort to establish a pregnancy (Genetics and Society). Embryo adoption has many of the same parts as traditional adoption, such as the matching process and adoption home study. However, a notable difference is the pregnancy experience. Parents using embryo adoption begin the journey nine months prior by adopting a frozen embryo donated by an “acceptable” couple (acceptability being varied from different organizations.) These prospective parents get the opportunity for the mother to carry her genetically unrelated, adopted child, while parents using traditional adoption have to trust the birth mother with prenatal care. Similar to any form of adoption, embryo adoption has changed exceptionally with time and should continue to develop as reproductive medicine and regulations change as well.
An international committee tasked with monitoring progress in assisted reproduction recorded that the global number of babies born using some form of IVF is greater than 8 million (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology). The number, calculated with data collected from regional registries 1991 to 2014, shows another substantial growth in the gross use of IVF in the treatment of infertility. However, IVF is also growing popular among couples without fertility issues. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 7.4 million women in the U.S use infertility technology, but only 6.7 million American women aged 15-44 are reported to be infertile. As popularity of IVF technology grows, so does the amount of embryos held in storage. Many women who completely undergo IVF are left with extra embryos to use for future siblings, or as back-ups if the first cycle fails. These frozen embryos raise a lot of controversy on whether it’s morally suitable to allow potential life to stay in that form.
The Catholic Church’s 2008 Dignitas Personae speaks on the moral importance of respecting the dignity of all human beings, no matter the stage of development. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith debates that the conception of embryos outside marriage and other forms of assisted reproduction treatments do not respect that dignity. Timothy Murphy, Professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, argues against the congregation in support of the treatments. Murphy claims that respecting dignity is respecting a human’s best interest, and embryos cannot have any interests capable of being violated (Murphy, 2011). He favors the social/scientific contributions made possible by ARTs, and advocates those gains as being for human interest. Neither point of view has broken through in a legal sense, as little to no legislation regarding their state has been passed in the subsequent years since the growth of IVFs.
Compared to traditional adoption, embryo adoptive parents have legal rights and responsibility for the embryos prior to birth. This gets rid of the possibility that the genetic mother could change her mind and decide to keep and rear her child. Since embryo adoption has remained largely unregulated, private organizations have developed some guidelines of their own. These organizations have relied on the best interests standard, used in traditional adoption proceedings, to restrict potential parents whose adoption of an embryo, according to these organizations, would not be for the best of the frozen offspring (Batsedis, 2003). Under either contract or adoption law, private organizations may reject customers they deem to be “unacceptable” applicants, such as non-Christian or same-sex couples. Other restrictive qualities are income, age of the parents, citizenship, and more.
Income plays a large part into adoption, as the process, traditional or not, can get quite pricey. Basic IVF can be around $15,000 to $10,000, the average cost for one normal cycle being $12,000. Not included in the base price, are the likely potentials of multiple cycles and the certainty of medications which can be $1,500 to $3,000 per cycle (Gurevich, R). When compared to embryo adoption/transfer, the total cost can be just $2,500 to $4,000. A much lower cost means that prospective parents may be able to attempt an embryo transfer earlier, rather than delaying until they are able to finance more expensive fertility treatments with comparable success rates. A financial challenge with any form of IVF is that there is no guaranteed result of a live birth on the first take. This could mean that embryo adoptive parents may have to try more than once, sometimes with different embryo donors. Parents considering to adopt traditionally will still encounter financial obstacles as most parents prefer to adopt an infant and such adoptions are private and may cost between $30,000 and $34,000. By contrast, embryo adoption, risks and all, appears affordable and it’s technology has the potential to be more efficient than it’s current alternatives.
The technology used in these transfers is ever-evolving and improving, thusly are it’s success rates. In the United States, 263,577 ART cycles were performed, ending in 76,930 live born infants. Of those cycles, 65,840 were for banking purposes, and were not expected as a resulting pregnancy or birth at that time (Center of Disease Control’s 2016 Fertility Clinic Success Rates Report). While the usage of ART is rather uncommon compared to it’s potential demand, its use has skyrocketed over the past decade. Given that nearly 4 million infants are born annually in the U.S, this equates to nearly 2% of all infants born are being conceived using ART.
Even with all the precautions and successful results, ethical and social concerns arise when considering how this process could affect children as they grow. Couples who give birth using donated embryos go on to raise a child to whom they are not genetically related. A study by the Journal of Family Psychology presented findings of families with a child conceived through embryo donation. 17 IVF families with a 5 to 9 year old child were compared with 24 adoptive families. The ability of the adoptive parents and the adopted child’s social/emotional development were studied using standardized interviews and questions given to mothers and teachers. Children reared from embryo adoption were not at increased risk of psychological problems, and the families were generally functioning well. (MacCallum, F. & Keeley, S.) As assisted reproductive technologies are considerably new, information regarding mid and late life effects are unknown. Any adoptive alternative available comes with it’s own set of challenges, and it’s up to every potential couple to weigh these decisions themselves.