With the advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and related assisted reproductive technologies (ART), many infertility issues once considered insurmountable are being resolved with great success. Most clinics now boast of IVF pregnancy success rates in the range of 30 - 60 percent.
However, IVF is still not a cure for infertility, nor is it an exact science, as each couple and situation is unique. During IVF treatments, the woman's ovaries are hyper-stimulated to release as many eggs as possible [the couple may choose to use donor eggs or semen]. All of these eggs are fertilized with semen in a Petri dish (whether there are 2 or 20). The fertilized eggs are now called embryos. One or more of these "fresh" embryos will be transferred into the woman's hormone-prepared womb with the hope that at least one will implant into the uterine lining and mature to birth.
Embryos that are not used in the first transfer are cryo-preserved (frozen) for future IVF cycles for this family. Frozen embryos represent hope for infertile couples. If the couple conceives all of the children they desire without using all of the stored embryos, they may choose to have the remaining unused embryos donated to another couple. This gracious act allows the child to be born and offers another infertile couple the chance to experience pregnancy and childbirth.
Embryo adoption gives the donor families an option for their embryos that reveres life - they recognize that the children they now love came from these same embryos! Embryo adoption gives the recipient family hope - the opportunity to experience pregnancy and give birth to their adopted child.
The legal process of the transfer of the embryos from the donor to the adopter is governed by contract law rather than adoption law. The embryos are "owned" by the donating family and "ownership" is given to the adopting family before the embryos are thawed and transferred into the adopting mother's womb. Adoption agencies wrap the protections of current adoption practices around the process of embryo donation. This is to the benefit of the donating family, the adopting parents and ultimately the child born via the procedure.
Several states, including Georgia and Tennessee, have proposed legislation to ensure that the protections governing domestic and international adoptions are applied to embryo adoption.
The number of embryos currently in storage in the United States is estimated to exceed 500,000. Of this number, the majority are still being preserved for use by the creating parents for their own family building efforts. It is estimated that more than 3,000 children have been born into families through embryo donation and adoption since the mid-1990s. Many couples who choose embryo adoption have already gone through several IVF cycles using their own eggs and semen without success. Some have even successfully adopted domestically or internationally. When they learn about embryo adoption it is very attractive because they still yearn to experience pregnancy and childbirth. A recent study in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility shows an average 35% pregnancy success rate using frozen embryos vs an average 32% for fresh cycles. Embryo adoption allows the couple to experience pregnancy, manage their health throughout the pregnancy and give birth to their adopted child.