We have been offering embryo donation at InVia Fertility Specialists since its inception in 2002. Although adoption has been around throughout history, the use of donated embryos for building families is relatively new and has become an option since the onset of assisted reproductive technologies (ART).
Over the past 25 years, it has developed to a point where it is now well-established, successful and widely available. The use of donated embryos can provide patients a way to conceive that may be less medically complex and less expensive than gamete donation (sperm and/or egg donation).
It also can provide the donating patients with a sense of fulfillment as their donation helps other patients build a family. Embryo donation for family building is recognized and regulated by government agencies in the United States and other countries. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration oversees the process through extensive regulations that apply to all donated human tissues, reproductive and nonreproductive alike. In this article, I will answer some of the questions we hear most about embryo donation.
How are donated embryos obtained?
They are usually donated by fertility clinic patients who have completed their families and have unused embryos from IVF.
How are potential embryo donors (and embryos) screened?
Embryo donors are usually people who have undergone fertility treatment. If they were patients at our clinic, we will have conducted many tests with them as part of their treatment, including thorough medical and genetic histories.
People who indicate they are willing to become embryo donors will also receive legal counseling and, sometimes, psychological counseling.
If feasible, we will attempt to perform infectious disease testing on both the egg and sperm providers. There is no method to completely ensure that infectious agents will not be transmitted.
Embryos that have not been subject to testing may still be donated if they are appropriately labeled, and recipients give their consent to receive them after being informed of the risks.
Who can use donor embryos?
Most commonly, donor embryos are used by patients who have been unable to conceive using their own eggs or sperm. The most common candidates for embryo donation are people with egg-factor infertility issues, including:
- Advanced maternal age
- Diminished ovarian reserve
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (premature menopause)
In addition, patients who cannot afford to use an egg donor often opt for embryo donation, as it is comparatively inexpensive.
How does the process work?
Patients wishing to use donated embryos should make an appointment to meet with one of our physicians. We have a list of available embryos that we will share with you and see if any of them are acceptable to you.
How are patients screened before proceeding with an embryo donation cycle?
A routine assessment of health and reproductive history is performed. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Review of medical, surgical, and psychiatric histories
- Review of current medications
- Evaluation of the risk of family and genetic histories
- Substance use assessment
- Evaluation of exposure to violence
Assessment of immunization status, nutritional status, weight, physical activity, and possible teratogenic exposures
A complete general physical examination is performed, including pelvic evaluation. The uterine cavity is assessed using saline infusion ultrasonography or another suitable procedure.
What laboratory tests are required for embryo recipients?
- Blood type, Rh factor, and antibody screen
- Assessment of vaccination status as per current guidance: Immunity against rubella and varicella should be documented before pregnancy
- Infectious disease testing: Serologic test for syphilis, hepatitis B surface antigen, hepatitis C antibody, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, HIV, and cytomegalovirus (CMV) immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody for women using donor sperm
- Tests for human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV) types I and II may also be performed
Positive test results for infectious disease require treatment. Abnormalities detected based on history, physical examination, or laboratory evaluation may require more detailed evaluation and treatment.
Sexually intimate partners of individuals planning to receive donated embryos should be screened for infectious diseases.
Do embryo donors have any parental rights to children born from their embryos?
No. Embryo donors must sign an informed consent document indicating their permission to use their embryos for embryo donation. As part of the consent process, they relinquish all rights to the embryos and any child or children that may result from the transfer of their embryos.
In the consent forms, donors also state that they recognize the possibility of inadvertent loss or damage to the embryos and that InVia has the right to refuse transfer to an inappropriate recipient.
The consent documents also set out the time period for which donated embryos will be maintained in cryostorage (frozen) and alternatives for their disposition when that period has ended.
What are the guidelines for clinics that offer embryo donation?
The practice should be knowledgeable in the storage, thawing, and transfer of frozen embryos.
The practice may charge a professional fee to the potential recipients for embryo thawing, the embryo transfer procedure, cycle coordination and documentation, and infectious disease screening and testing of both recipients and donors. However, the selling of embryos per se is ethically unacceptable.
It is acceptable for a practice or cryostorage facility to have conservatorship of embryos given up for potential embryo donation by patients whose sperm and eggs were used to generate the embryos.
Embryos should be quarantined for a minimum of six months before the potential donors are screened and tested or retested as previously explained, with documentation of negative results.
Physicians and employees of an infertility practice should be excluded from participating in embryo donation (either as donors or recipients) within that practice.
We have more than 20 years of experience with embryo donation
If you would like to get more information about our embryo donation program, please call 847 884 8884 and make an appointment with one of our physicians. We have five convenient locations (Arlington Heights, Chicago, Crystal Lake, Hoffman Estates and Northbrook) and offer video consults as well. We at InVia Fertility Specialists are your “pathway to pregnancy” and look forward to helping you start or complete your family.