Generally, YES! Most embryos qualify to donate to another family trying to conceive. A program that does not accept your embryos is simply abiding by the restrictions of their specific donation method. Understanding these different methods can help you determine the right path for your donation.
If you are wondering if your embryos qualify for donation, read on to learn how the donation process works, and how you can find the best choice for your embryos.
Options for donating to another family for the purposes of family building
In each of the scenarios below, somewhat different acceptability guidance applies
- Anonymous donation via a fertility clinic/reproductive practice: In this scenario, a family donates to the fertility clinic, giving legal custody to the clinic, who then donates to another patient of the practice.
- Directed donation. The donor/recipient will have contact information and establish guidelines for interaction, from limited/no contact to a high engagement open relationship. The embryo owner executes a legal agreement directly with the recipient. Directed donations include:
- Matching via an embryo donation program, within a fertility clinic setting or a program operating independently.
- Social media open donation to a family, whom the donor meets for the purposes of embryo donation.
- Known donation to a family member or friend
Anonymous vs. Directed or Known Donation
The most significant impact from a regulatory standpoint is the anonymous vs directed or known donation. Most clinic programs offer anonymous programs, for which the Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) and American Society for Reproductive Medicine (“ASRM”) apply more stringent guidelines on genetic conditions carried by the donating family. In directed donations, the future communication lines provide a vehicle to share medical updates, so more extended family medical conditions are deemed acceptable.
Embryo Age Considerations
Embryos are cryo-preserved, so even embryos that are 29 yrs in storage may result in a live birth. However, changes in embryo culture and freezing technologies have shifted the landscape of embryo viability. Starting ~2010 (some tech-advanced reproductive practices as early as 2008), embryos are now generally grown out to Day 5-6 to create a more robust embryo for freezing, and use vitrification, a fast-freezing technique that improves the embryo thaw. Many clinics only want to transfer embryos created with this style of culture and freezing technique. Some programs, however, are still comfortable with the long standing slow-freeze method.
Embryo Quality Considerations
Please see our article on what makes a good embryo
Intended parents and receiving providers seek generally good health histories. No family is perfect – it’s expected that there will be some conditions, genetic or not, that are in the family. It’s simply important to be forthright about any conditions so that recipients can make informed decisions, and to be prepared for care as parents and for self care for offspring as they grow older.
There are a few things that increase the chances that your embryos will be approved
Providers weigh the likelihood that the embryos will lead to a viable pregnancy and ultimately a healthy live birth, along with risks associated with the embryos. A few confidence building factors include:
- More than one embryo. Because the success rate of a given embryo is about 50%, a family who receives multiple embryos has a better chance of having a child. People with more embryos are therefore often more attractive candidates than those with only one embryo.
- Good quality embryos. Just as the probability of success is higher with a higher quantity of embryos, it is also higher with higher quality embryos. Those who have had successful fertility journeys are therefore often deemed more likely to produce embryos that will lead to successful pregnancies and births.
- FDA screening results. FDA guidance recommends that people who plan to donate embryos undergo a thorough medical history evaluation and that they are tested for communicable diseases sometime after embryo retrieval. Those who have completed these screenings and whose results convey the lowest risk for a potential fetus are likely to be deemed the best candidates for embryo donation.
- Ownership of embryo rights. If an embryo was created using a sperm donor or an egg donor, embryo donation depends on the terms of the initial donation agreement. Those who are the sole owners of their embryos and have the right to donate them are candidates for donation.
There are also some things that can make it difficult to donate, especially at certain clinics
While the above can significantly improve your chances of donating embryos, there are also certain scenarios in which donation can be more difficult. These situations involve:
- Debilitating genetic conditions. In cases where debilitating genetic conditions are present in the parents, embryo donation can be challenging because of the known heightened risk to the potential fetus.
- Lack of FDA screening results. Without providing your own medical history and the results of the relevant FDA screenings, it is impossible for those who are evaluating your embryo donation to assess the chances of a healthy pregnancy and healthy child. It can therefore be difficult to donate embryos – even anonymously – under these conditions.
- Legal agreement without independent counsel. Providers want to ensure that both parties understand their rights and liabilities, so that the document can hold up in court (and they don’t find themselves in the middle of a legal dispute)
If your embryos have not been accepted at one clinic, you may still be able to donate
Persevering to find the right fit may enable you to donate, even if your embryos are not initially accepted. For example, while one clinic may only accept multiple embryos, another clinic may eagerly take one high quality embryo. In even more difficult situations where nonideal results from an FDA screening lead a clinic to reject an anonymous embryo donation, you may be able to donate your embryos through a known or directed donation where the recipient signs informed consent forms, acknowledging that they understand the risks associated with those screening results.
Embryo donation can be lifechanging for parents and families. If you are considering donating embryos, it is likely that there is an option that will enable you to do so. If your donation is not initially accepted, searching for the right program can make all the difference in your ability to donate and contribute to new life.