Embryo Donation. The New Modern Family

Up until now, an accepted alternative pathway for couples to build a family has been the adoption process. But with recent advances in reproductive medicine, building a family through embryo donation is something newer that has made some people nervous.

What is an embryo? Fertilized eggs are known as embryos. In the arena of reproductive medicine, many embryos may be created through the IVF process, but typically only one or two embryos are transferred back to the woman's uterus. If the transfer results in embryo implantation, a pregnancy has occurred and may continue on just like any other pregnancy. The other embryos that may have been created are often cryopreserved for later transfers.

What is embryo donation? When the genetic parent(s) decide that their family is complete and embryos still remain in cryopreservation, there are difficult decisions, such as donating the embryos to research (stem cell research), or thawing them out and allowing them to end naturally, or donate them to someone who is unable to conceive.

For many, donating embryos to others marks their gratitude; the process worked and they wish to give back. Also, it is common to hear people report that it was the most ethically sound action they felt they could take given the other choices.

Although donations result in no monetary gain for the donors and the primary concern may be to give the embryos the best chance of life, it remains a controversial area. For example, what are the drawbacks? One ethical concern includes anonymous donation versus open donation. Duly, the resulting child is considered to be of the woman who carries it and gives birth, and not the child of the genetic parents, but does the child have a right to know the details of the process, or is it up to the parents' discretion entirely?

And what can embryo donation lead to? Labs that create embryos for sale? In fact, that has happened in California and although some medical practitioners are clearly outraged, for one recipient "It was an easy choice," and they are thrilled with their new baby stating "she is just perfect".

A glance at responses to news articles discussing this topic shows there are mixed reviews. Some are definitely against this type of practice in all its forms, and others see it as akin to adoption.

It is estimated that there are over 600,000 human embryos are currently in cryopreservation in the United States, and possibly that number is increasing. Is it time for some legislation? Are there more questions than answers?

S. Fenella Das Gupta PhD Neuroscience, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in Northern California. She specializes in fertility issues, helping individuals and couples navigate the fertility maze

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